ULA’s 2016 launch roster helped U.S. overtake Russia in space craft launches

An Atlas V rocket ready for launch at Cape Canaveral. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)
An Atlas V rocket ready for launch at Cape Canaveral. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)
An Atlas V rocket ready for launch at Cape Canaveral. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr)

In 2016, the United States leads the world for most space rocket launches for the first time since the 1990s.

With 20 launches projected to be completed by year’s end, 12 of those by Centennial-based United Launch Alliance, the U.S. now leads China and Russia, with 19 and 18 launches respectively.

Russia has been the undisputed world leader in spaceflight since 1967, launching about 100 rockets per year at its prime. The U.S. briefly overtook Russia in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, but Russia eventually reclaimed its former status as the leader in annual rocket launches.

But today, Russia’s launch rate is drastically declining. Between severe budget cuts and catastrophic engine failures, like the one that destroyed Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket in 2014, the former space hegemon may begin to see its launches dwindle even more in future years, the Moscow Times reported.

And rapid commercialization in the space flight sector, in the style of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is chipping away at the Russian company’s historic market share, as well as upping the stakes for established stakeholders.

Space X CEO Elon Musk during a 2013 interview. (Web Summit/Flickr)
Space X CEO Elon Musk during a 2013 interview. (Web Summit/Flickr)

After Musk announced his ambitious estimate that reusable rockets could decrease launch costs by a factor of 100, Roscosmos State Corporation, which is in charge of Russia’s space program, cut costs and built a reusable rocket of its own, the Moscow Times reported.

Despite SpaceX’s perceived threat to the Russian space program, United Launch Alliance is still leading the nation in launch activity.

United Launch Alliance is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. The Centennial-based partnership formed in December 2006 to provide launch services to the U.S. government.

By the end of 2016, ULA will have launched 12 rockets into space.

If SpaceX recovers from a September explosion in time to launch one more rocket in December, as Musk has said it will, American launches will surpass 20 by year’s end.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

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