[Satellite News 04-17-12] China has taken a significant launch market lead in 2011 by successfully lofting 19 rockets into orbit by the end of the year – one more than the United States, which launched 18 missions in 2011, according to an April 17 report from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the nonprofit Space Foundation.
Russia, however, maintained the global launch market lead, sending 31 rockets into orbit from its national launch facilities.
The research results continue to show the United States’ decline in space activity compared to its rival economic powers. China has been steadily catching up to the United States in terms of sheer numbers of rocket launches for several years. China successfully launched 15 rockets in 2010, which matched the U.S. launch output for the first time in history.
In response to the 2011 U.S. Commercial Space Transportation report, NASA, military officials and several private companies noted that the United States had a perfect success rate in 2011. China, however, lost one experimental satellite when a Long March rocket veered off course in August. Russia had the worst record with four failed launches.
“Beijing is not about to catch up to Washington in space. The U.S. government spends more money than any other country on space launches and spacecraft: nearly $50 billion, compared to just $25 billion or so for all other governments combined,” FAA officials wrote in the report. “With its huge financial advantage and technological edge, Washington is projected to possess the biggest space arsenal for decades to come.”
The United States also carried more satellites per launch on its domestic rockets compared to their Chinese counterparts. Last year, the 18 U.S.-launched rockets placed 28 satellites into orbit. China’s 19 rocket launches placed just 21 satellites into space. Russia’s 31 launches delivered 53 spacecraft to orbit.
In August 2011, Futron Corp. released its 2011 Space Competitiveness Index (SCI), which compared 10 leading space-faring nations across more than 50 individual metrics that were then combined into three basic categories — government, human capital and industry.
The 2011 SCI report showed that while the United States remained the overall leading country in space competitiveness, its position was steadily declining as other countries enhance their capabilities. Futron said this trend was particularly evident in the arena of human spaceflight. Out of the 10 countries analyzed, the United States was the only nation that displayed four straight years of competitiveness declines.
“Russia, China and Japan have improved their own space competitiveness by 12 percent, 27 percent and 45 percent, respectively, over their relative starting points from when Futron’s benchmarking process began in 2008,” the report said. “Russia was the worldwide leader in launches, and is poised for increased activity, with a vital role transporting astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, as well as the introduction of Soyuz launches from the European spaceport at Kourou.”
Futron added that while Japan strengthened its competitive position through space policy reforms that filter through government and industry, its 2011 results showed these gains were not enough to maintain Japan’s position relative to China’s rapid ascent. The report also highlighted Brazil’s efforts to, “re-examine its national space priorities, expanded its international partnerships and laid plans for a new launch vehicle. It remains to be seen whether these steps will keep Brazil ahead of other countries in the region that also are emerging onto the space scene,” the report said.
Futron’s previous SCI report in 2010 highlighted many of the same trends and issued similar warnings. The 2010 results showed that while the United States was trailed by Europe, the formulation of a new U.S. national space policy was a step in the right direction.
“Dominant actors are increasingly challenged by a second and third tier of space leaders, and the competitive gaps among all nations are narrowing. To retain its leadership position, the [United States] must leverage its secret space weapon industry and align it with strategy, policy and budget,” Futron COO Peggy Slye said in last year’s report.