2014 Year in Spaceflight Review

After the Holidays’ article ‘2014 Space Review in Cakes, Sweeties and Toys’, and already conducted in 2015 two space launches, by SpaceX on January 10 and by United Launch Alliance (ULA) on January 20, later than it could be but still, we hope, in appropriate time, below is presented our summary of 2014 Year in Spaceflight.

Overall, 92 space launches have been conducted in 2014, 11 launches more than a year ago and a record number for the latest almost 20 years. Number of space launches along the year has been grown since 14 in the first quarter, to 21 in the second, 25 in the third, and 32 in the forth. This trend is clearly illustrated by the fact that in December there were performed 15 space launches, twice as much as month’s average number, what means nearly one launch in two days.

Chart 1 — Number of Launches in 2014 by Month

As year ago, Soyuz was the most popular launch vehicle family in 2014 with 22 space launches conducted under this ‘brand’ (in 2013 there were only 16 such launches). Atlas V and Proton-M exchanged their places in Top-3 with 9 space launches of the former (8 in 2013) and 8 launches of the latter (10 in 2013). It is worth to note two launch failures, of Antares on October 28 and of Proton-M on May 15, when all payloads that should have been deployed were lost. In 2013 there were 1 launch failure more. Good news of 2014 was maiden flights of India’s GSLV Mk II with home-made upper stage engine on cryogenic H2+O2 (January 5) and Angara A5 Russia’s heavy rocket (December 23).

Chart 2 — Number of Launches in 2014 by Launcher

Baikonur remained the spaceport where most of space launches have been conducted from, however in 2014 it hosted 2 launch campaigns less than in 2013, only 21. At the same time Cape Canaveral, saving its 2nd place under this criteria, hosted 16 space launches in 2014 up from 10 launches in the previous year. European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, took the third place with 11 space launches, what marked a record year both for it and Arianespace, launch operator. Comparing to 2013, Japan didn’t launch in 2014 its Epsilon solid-fuel rocket from Uchinoura spaceport, neither did South Korea with KSLV rocket from Naro, whereas Israel did conduct a launch of its once-per-three-years-used (on average) Shavit rocket from Palmachim base.

Chart 3 — Number of Launches in 2014 by Spaceport

Russia conducted 33 space launches in 2014, exactly the same number than in 2013. Its main ‘competitors’ US and China conducted in 2014 more space launches, 23 and 16, respectively, versus 19 and 15 a year ago. Europe, as it was mentioned above, launched 11 rockets, almost half more than 7 in 2013; India and Japan launched 4 rockets each, up from 3 each in 2013.

Chart 4 — Number of Launches in 2014 by Country

Below is presented the Chart on the quantity of space launches conducted in 2014 by launch operator. Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, took the first place with 18 launches, ULA was the second (14 launches), and Arianespace was the third (11 launches). More and more space launches is being conducted by SpaceX, which has doubled in 2014 its 2013 figure of 3 launches. Furthermore, it aims to double as well in 2015 its 2014 portfolio of 6 launches, launching 12 or even more ‘Falcons’, including new Falcon Heavy.

Chart 5 — Number of Launches in 2014 by Launch Operator

Now let’s address to what was deployed during all those launches described above. 296 satellites were launched in 2014, comparing to 212 in 2013. A total of near 337 tons of payload was launched into space in 2014, a number that includes overall mass of spacecraft, cargo and manned spaceships. This is approximately 10 tons more than in 2013 (both figures include those payload destroyed during rocket failures). Among these payloads were historically important Orion Spacecraft, launched by Delta IV Heavy on December 5, Chinese Chang’e 5-T1 lunar sample return module, launched atop Long March 3 on October 23, and Russian Foton M-4 bio-science research spacecraft carrying live creatures, launched by Soyuz-2.1a on July 18.

The year of 2014 marked some ‘Nation’s Firsts’, which are the first satellites of Lithuania (Lituanica SAT-1 and LitSat-1), Iraq (Tigrisat) and Uruguay (ANTELSAT), first Earth observation satellite of Kazakhstan (KazEOSat-1), first CubeSat of Brazil (NanoSatC-Br 1), and the first Russian CubeSat completely funded by domestic private capital (DX-1). Below is chart showing division of launched satellites by their ownership form (Chart 6) and purpose (Chart 7).

Chart 6 — Spacecraft Launched in 2014 by Ownership Form
Chart 7 — Spacecraft Launched in 2014 by Purpose

From Charts above it is clearly seen that ratio of commercial/government-owned satellites that were launched in 2014 is half-by-half. It is the first time in history when there were launched not less private spacecraft than governmental. However, in fact, so many private satellites, as well as so high ratio of Earth observation spacecraft launched in 2014, can be explained only by one reason: there were launched 93 so-called Doves (3U CubeSats) of Planet Labs, 26 of which, moreover, were destroyed in late 2014 Antares failure.

Most popular orbit, where the most satellites have been launched to in 2014, is low Earth orbit (LEO). It seems like following years LEO’s ‘popularity’ will only increase due to growing number of CubeSats and small telecommunications spacecraft, as well as means of their comparably low-cost and available delivery, that are expected to be launched in the nearest years on. Geostationary orbit (GEO), very probably, contrary to LEO will be less popular due to rather high costs of satellite deployment and limited geostationary slots. Next year GEO may even give its 2nd place to sun-synchronous (SSO) or medium Earth orbit (MEO), where most of scientific, meteorological and navigation satellites are launched to.

Chart 8 — Spacecraft Launched in 2014 by Orbit

2014 was busy in terms of International Space Station (ISS) crew and cargo supplies. More than 25 tons (25,550 kg) of cargo was delivered to the ISS in 2014 by 9 cargo spaceships: 2 Cygnus (3rd one was destroyed in Antares first stage explosion), 4 Progress, 2 Dragon and 1 ATV. In fact ATV-5, launched atop Ariane 5 on July 29 and being the heaviest payload ever launched by Europe, delivered to the orbital station more than one third of the year’s amount of cargo, if counting by mass. It was the last in series of five flights of ATV, but most of its technologies were reported to be used in NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle’s service module. Also in 2014, Russian Soyuz TMAs manned spaceships delivered to the ISS 12 astronauts and cosmonauts: 6 from Russia, 4 from the USA, and one from Germany and Italy.

At the end of this report let’s address an issue that was already raised in our half-year report with sounding title ‘Start of CubeSat Era’. Then we noted the fact that after the 2014 first half-year for the first time in history number of launched CubeSats prevailed over the corresponding number of other satellites deployed. The Chart below shows overall number of CubeSats, launched over the past 3 years (238 in total). It is difficult to guess more or less accurate quantity of CubeSats that will be launched in 2015, but it seems like 200 is not so impossible or unapproachable number for this year.

Chart 9 — CubeSats Launched During Last 3 Years

That was brief review of 2014 year in spaceflight, with the most obvious and superficial statistical data. Throughout the year we hope to provide you with more in-depth analysis and forecasts on a quarterly or even monthly basis. Furthermore, early 2015 we expect appearance of our full-scale website, www.spacedigest.net, where all of you are warmly welcomed once it is launched☺