In recent weeks, China's space program has made news by revealing some of its long-term ambitions for space flight. These include the creation of an economic zone with Earth-moon space until 2050, which, if successful, could allow the country to begin dictating the rules of behavior for future space exploration. over the past 16 years, can really build a large low-Earth space station, send taikonauts to the moon, return samples from Mars, and more over the next decade or two. But what seems clear is that the country's authoritarian government has long-term plans and is taking steps towards becoming a global leader in space exploration.
Through an important metric launch in orbit, China has already reached this goal.
In 2018, the country set a target of 35 orbital launches and ended with 39 launch attempts. That year, the United States (29 flights) and Russia (20) trailed China according to the Space Launch Report. It marked the first time China led the world in the number of successful orbital launches.
This year, China will set up the world again. During Sunday, the country has started 27 orbital missions, followed by Russia (19) and the United States (16). Although nearly one and a half months remain this year, there are likely to be no more than six additional orbital launches from the United States in 2019.
To be fair, China's space launch program has not been without hiccups. The country's space program is still trying to bring its big Long 5 vehicle back into service after a catastrophic failure in just its second mission, in July 2017. And the country had three failures in 2018 and 2019, compared to just one in the United States and Russia together.
The United States has taken a step back this year in part due to reduced activity from SpaceX. The company launched a record 21 missions last year but has so far launched 11 rockets in 2019. A flurry of missions will remain possible over the next six weeks for the company, including a space station relaunch mission in early December, a commercial satellite launch, and additional Starlink flights.
Another big factor has been a slow year for the United Launch Alliance. The Colorado-based company has launched just two Delta IV Medium rockets this year, one Delta IV Heavy and one Atlas V mission. The company can launch Boes's Starliner spacecraft before the end of 2019, giving the Atlas V rocket a second launch.
It is possible that Rocket Lab, which has moved its Electron rocket from New Zealand five times in 2019 and is planning at least one more mission before the end of the year, will have more launches than the United Launch Alliance for the first time. Sometime next year, Rocket Lab should also start adding US speeches for runway launches when it opens a new facility on Wallops Island, Virginia.