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.
The United States launched 11 military missions in the year, including payloads for the National Reconnaissance Office and a new generation of small communications satellites for the Space Development Agency. Russia launched 10 civil government missions in 2023, including Soyuz launches to send crews to the International Space Station, which remains one area of cooperation between the Kremlin and NASA. India made headlines with its successful launch of a lunar probe while the European Space Agency, awaiting its new Ariane-6 launch vehicle, launched three spacecraft including its Euclid space observatory.
The record number of launches came despite delays that pushed the debuts of several long-anticipated launch vehicles into 2024. It was the third consecutive year to shatter launch records, despite a decline in European and Russian launches.
Seizing the high ground to see what lies ahead, a skill as old as warfare itself, has never been more important. Now, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the intelligence community’s mapmakers, are seizing the high ground of commercial space to augment the products they deliver to the military and first responders at disaster scenes.
With record launches for the third year running, it’s no surprise that the number of payloads reaching orbit is also skyrocketing. Spacecraft deployed in 2023 grew 23% to 2,891, bringing approximately 1.4 million kg of equipment to space.
American foreign policy is sitting on a razor’s edge. The United States now must walk a tightrope between maintaining global posture and avoiding global conflict.
Universities across the globe are building an increasingly large presence in space by attaching student satellite projects to launches. Since the advent of nanosatellites and CubeSats, the barrier to space entry has never been lower for students.