2020 has been a busy year, with SpaceX launching more rockets than ever before, ULA launching quite a bit of Atlas V's and even their mighty Delta IV Heavy, RocketLab succeeding at reusability and much more. This will be a list of what we at Hover Slam Space believe are some the most memorable and most important things to happen for the year of 2020.
China National Space Administration
CNSA launched a total of 39 launches consisting of 16 different launch vehicles in 2020, with 35 successfully reaching orbit. They launched a total of 8 Long March 3B/E (1 failure), 7 Long March 2D, 5 Long March 4B, 3 Kuaizhou 1A (1 failure), 3 Long March 2C, 2 Long March 11, 2 Long March 5, 1 Long March 7A (inaugural launch and failure), 1 Long March 5B (inaugural launch), 1 Kuaizhou 11 (inaugural launch and failure), 1 Long March 2F/T, 1 Long March 11H, 1 Long March 6, 1 Ceres 1 (inaugural launch), 1 Long March 8 (inaugural launch) and 1 Long March 4C (failure).
Most of these missions are unknown or classified but some of the most memorable launches/missions for the year were, the test flight of their next generation crewed capsule, their inflatable heatshield and a reusable spaceplane named Chongfu Shiyong Shiyan Hangtian Qi. Additionally they launch Tianwen-1, their first independent Mars mission, consisting of a Rover, Lander and Orbiter, that if successful, will make them 6th nation to orbit Mars, 3rd to land on Mars only 2nd to both operate and have rover on the surface. Lastly, they launched Change-5 and successfully conducted the first Lunar Sample Return Mission since Luna 24 in 1976.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
JAXA had a total of 4 launches this year, 3 H-IIA and 1 H-IIB (final flight), one of which was the Hope Orbiter for the United Arab Emirates Space Agency. This will be their first Mars orbiter, and if successful will make them only 5th country to orbit Mars, only a few days before China's Tianwen-1.
JAXA was also able to successfully recover its second set of samples from an Asteroid this year, with Hayabusa 2 returning samples from Asteroid Ryugu, successfully concluding a 6 year mission and giving the scientific community pristine samples of our early solar system.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA had quite a lot of milestones accomplished throughout the year. Starting out with the Space Launch System (SLS) for Artemis, the Core stage was moved and placed on the B-2 test stand out in Stennis Space Center, were a series of 8 tests known as the Green Run Test have been slowly conducted on the stage. Multiple delays from the COVID-19 pandemic to multiple
hurricanes in the area have slowed the progress to crawl at times but the final 2 test should be conducted by early 2021. Out at the Kennedy Space Center side, the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) has been completed and conducted its final full integration test out at Launch Complex-39B. The Solid Rocket Boosters were also shipped out from Utah in early summer and have even begun to be stacked onto the MLP in November. The Interstage for SLS was also shipped by the Pegasus Barge to KSC and is currently waiting to be stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The Orion capsule has been fully integrated and is waiting to have the Launch Abort System to be stacked on top of it before being moved to the VAB as well. This just leaves the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, which has been in storage at the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) at KSC since 2017 and this year was sent to the Delta Operations Center for inspections before being sent back to the SSPF and await to be staked in the VAB.
For subsequent missions (Artemis-2 and beyond) a crew will be needed, and for that reason NASA has selected 18 astronauts to be part of the Artemis Team, to land crew on the moon by 2024. Another important piece of hardware not completed yet for this, is the Lunar Lander, and for this, NASA has selected three different designs which will compete for the final price. The first being a collaboration between Blue Origin (BO), Lockheed Martin (LM), Northrop Grumman (NG) and Draper, also known as the National Team. This design consists of a Transfer Stage (built by NG), Landing Stage (built by BO) and Ascent Stage (built by LM), with only the landing stage being non-reusable for now. The Second is Dynetics which has proposed a partially reusable system which utilizes a half staging system by dropping expended tanks only. The Third is by SpaceX with a lunar Starship Variant that cannot return to Earth but instead is to only be used in space.
Artemis is not the only thing NASA has been working on though, having launched the Perseverance rover atop an Atlas V in July, and even successfully collected a sample from Asteroid Bennu with the Osiris-REX mission and is in the process of returning it back to Earth. Additionally this year marked the success of the Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX successfully launching NASA astronauts to space for the first time from US soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011. Overall, a very progressive year indeed.
SpaceX has had a more busy year than usual, launching a total of 25 times into orbit, launching 26 Falcon 9's (1 not going to orbit for the In-Flight Abort Test (IFA)) and an additional 3 Starship test articles with one conducting a reentry test by going into horizontal at 12.5 km up and guiding itself to a landing. SpaceX additionally conducted some important missions such as SAOCOM-1B, the first polar orbit from Florida since 1969 and IFA, which saw a Falcon 9 fail on purpose, to test the Abort Capabilities of its Crew Dragon Capsule. Most importantly, in May, the launch of DM-2, making Bob and Doug the first American's to launch from US soil since STS-135 in July 2011. They later launched Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, on Crew-1, marking the first ISS crew to launch from US soil since 2011 and the first crewed night launch from the US since February 2010.
RocketLab has launched a total of 7 Electrons, 1 of which sadly didn't make it to orbit due to a battery connection issue, leading to the loss of the mission. However this loss led to a quick solution, and they were up and running shortly after with a secret debut of their Photon satellite, taking pictures of the Earth below. Additionally they successfully proved Electrons reusability by recovering the first stage and even plan on using some of its components for subsequent missions. RocketLab additionally conducted a Wet Dress Rehearsal of their Electron out at Wallops Launch Complex-2 (LC-2) and even got FAA licensing, getting them one step closer to launching from US Soil for the first time. Lastly Electron was selected by NASA to launch CAPSTONE from Wallops LC-2 to the Moon as part of their Artemis Program. This will mark the furthest an Electron has sent a payload (to selenocentric orbit) and only the second time it launches into an orbit other than Low Earth Orbit.
United Launch Alliance
ULA launched a total of 6 launches in 2020, 5 Atlas V's in all kinds of configurations and 1 Delta IV Heavy. They launched 2 interplanetary missions (Solar Orbiter and Perseverance), in addition to launching the 6th and final Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications satellite, as well as the X-37B on its next long duration mission and 2 National Reconnaissance Satellites (one atop its Delta). Additionally, ULA has made quite a bit of progress on their next launch system, Vulcan, with much of their progress documented on their twitter, such as the welding of the flight ready booster, testing of the GEM-63XL's and much more.
For more Spaceflight news, content, and discussion, stay tuned right here to https://hoverslamspace.com/, and all of our social media pages!