First Three Months of 2023 Set Orbital Launch Record

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 spacecraft sits on top of a Falcon 9 rocket during preparations two days before its launch on Feb. 27, 2023. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Global orbital launch activity continued to accelerate in the first quarter of 2023. For the first time in history, more than 50 launches were attempted before March 31 although four of the 52 attempts were unsuccessful.

The year kicked off with SpaceX’s Transporter 6 mission on January 3, which carried more than 100 satellites from a variety of operators to space. Rocket Lab launched the first two missions from its new launch complex at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia in January and March. The new pad can support up to 12 additional launches for the company annually.

Six nations launched satellites in the first three months of the year. The U.S. had the most attempts, largely due to SpaceX’s 21 launches. Even with a month-long break in activity during the Lunar New Year holiday, China came in second with 14 launches, and Russia came in third with six.

India conducted the second commercial launch of its LVM3 rocket for OneWeb in March. The 36 satellites on board completed OneWeb’s initial broadband internet constellation, allowing the company to provide global coverage. After an almost three-year break, Israel successfully launched a new military satellite.

While most of the launches (92%) in the first quarter were successful, there were four vehicle failures. Three new launch vehicles attempted maiden flights in the first months of 2023, but none of them reached orbit. Virgin Orbit, which has since declared bankruptcy, also failed to bring the satellites on its LauncherOne rocket to space.

There has been only one crewed flight so far this year: The SpaceX Crew-6 mission brought one veteran and three new astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Three uncrewed cargo vehicles also launched to the station. One of these, Soyuz MS-23, was sent to replace the Soyuz MS-22 vehicle damaged by a micro-meteorite and declared unsafe for its planned astronaut return.

The first quarter of 2023 already has set launch records, but there are many exciting moments are expected this year. SpaceX expects to launch Starship for the first time in April, and ESA will be launching its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer as well. The first of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services missions, Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lander, is also set to launch this year.


— Zoe

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