Averaging a liftoff every 33 hours and 49 minutes, January’s 22 successful launches to space marked the busiest start to a year since the Space Age dawned in 1957, and put the globe on track for 259 launches in 2024, which would easily eclipse records set in 2023, according to a Space Foundation database. If the pace holds, this year could shatter 2023’s record of one launch every 39 hours, which sped past a record set in 2022 with a launch every 47 hours. Since 1957, January launches have proven to be a key predictor for annual launch numbers, with annual launch figures meeting or exceeding the January pace 93% of the time.
A Sunday launch that placed three Iranian satellites into orbit could signal the Islamic Republic’s ability to use its launch vehicles to deliver warheads to distant targets, warned retired Air Force Gen. Lance Lord, a former leader of Pentagon space efforts. Announced by Iran’s state news agency IRNA, the Sunday launch was the nation’s second successful space mission in the past month and the first to deliver multiple satellites. The three satellites, Mahda, Keyhan-2, and Hatef-1, were described by Iran as research satellites designed to test a variety of technologies including communications.
Orbital launch attempts have more than tripled since a lull in activity in the early 2000s bottomed out at 55 attempts in 2004. Part of the rapid growth in the past few years is due to a sharp increase in launch vehicle operators after a long period with an average just shy of 10 distinct operators per year.
While the U.S. typically leads commercial satellite launches, China almost doubled its private missions in 2022—commercial payloads were 27% of the nation’s launches compared to 16% in 2021. Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. launched five batches of high-resolution imagery satellites for its Jilin-1 constellation and has deployed approximately half of its planned 138 satellites.
Space launch activity continued to grow rapidly in 2022, reaching a new high of 186 orbital launch attempts. Last year was filled with successes and had three fewer failures than 2021, even with 41 more attempts.
A flurry of military and intelligence satellite launches by rival powers this month came as the United States and two dozen partner nations wrapped up the largest global space defense wargame in history.
Russia launched what some leaders have described as a spy satellite for Iran and its own on-orbit snooping satellite Cosmos-2558, which is circling Earth in an orbit conspicuously close to a recently launched U.S. National Reconnaissance Office satellite, a Netherlands researcher confirmed.
Of the 55 commercial launches attempted in 2021, 31 occurred in the United States. Of these, 23 were carried out by SpaceX, all of which were successful. China and Russia each conducted nine commercial launches in 2021. All six Russian launches were conducted on the Soyuz launch vehicle, and all were successful.
The first six months of 2022 saw a record pace of space launches, matching the mark of 75 set in the first half of 1967. And through June 30, the year saw a record pace for successful launches, topping the mark of 70 set in 1984.
The Space economy hit $447 billion in 2021 and the pace of growth was expected to accelerate in 2022.
This interactive chart tracks 2021 launch attempts and shows that commercial launches have become the largest mission sector in the United States.