The U.S. launch industry sustained a healthy rate of launches and saw the successful debut of ## new rockets, the Falcon 9 and the Minotaur IV. The United States accounted for ## launches in 2010, below the 2009 level of ## launches but comparable to its 2005-2009 average of ## launches a year.
Launch vehicles can be grouped into two categories. The first consists of vehicles that can propel their payloads fast enough at a sufficient altitude to achieve orbit. A launch vehicle that is unable to place a payload in orbit, but can still carry a payload into space, is referred to as a suborbital launch vehicle.
There is growing interest in suborbital reusable launch vehicles to conduct experiments and research. Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, is developing the Extreme Altitude series of unmanned suborbital vehicles to carry experimental payloads. The company is offering to launch payloads at a price of $## per kilogram ($## per pound), or a “Sodasat” payload for $##, so named because its size and mass is similar to that of a can of soda.
The Sea Launch consortium operates a derivative of the Ukrainian Zenit 2 rocket, modified with Russian and American components and used by Sea Launch as its standard booster since the company’s first launch in 1999. The Zenit-3SL rocket launches from Sea Launch’s ocean platform. A variant of this system, the Zenit-3SLB, launches from the Zenit pad at Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
In contrast to countries that fill various space-launch niches with an array of different rocket types, Japan has chosen to focus its rocket development efforts by progressively enhancing and refining older rockets. The H-IIA and H-IIB are the current manifestations of these efforts.
Europe’s space launch capability is managed by ESA via France-based Arianespace, a public-private consortium of 23 shareholders and ten European nations. European launches are conducted using facilities located at Kourou in French Guiana. While this site has seen a progression of rockets lift off from its pads, in recent years only the Ariane 5 launched from Kourou.
China has long relied on the Long March (Chang Zheng) series of rockets to meet its orbital launch needs. With the Long March 1 series now retired, the Long March 2 and 3 series constitute the bulk of the Chinese rocket fleet, while the Long March 4 series serves smaller payloads.
As in recent years, Russia led the world in orbital launches, with ## in 2009, sustaining a long history of pioneering space accomplishments. In 2009 Russia launched payloads on seven different vehicles: Kosmos, Cyclone, Dnepr, Proton, Rockot, Soyuz, and Soyuz 2.
Seven different American-operated launch vehicle families performed ## orbital launches in 2009: the Atlas V, Delta II, Delta IV, Falcon 1, Minotaur I, Space Shuttle, and Taurus XL. These vehicles are capable of placing payloads into orbit, ranging from small satellites to major elements of the International Space Station (ISS).