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|This graph shows the number of rockets (in white) and spacecrafts (in green) launched each year since 1957. In average, 96 rockets are launched every year, carrying 132 spacecrafts. Note that these numbers were much higher in the 1960s-1980s. During the last decade, some 65 rockets were launched yearly, carrying 106 spacecrafts. For the year 2011, 84 rockets were launched, carrying 137 spacecrafts.|
The year in Review
2011 will be remembered as the year when the Space
Shuttle flew for the last time: 135 flights were performed in 31 years
The loss of the Progress shows the vulnerability of ISS. By chance, at the time of the incident, the Space Station had plenty of supplies to stay manned for six months. But the incident delayed the normal crew rotation by two months. NASA even considered the possibility of abandoning ISS for a while.
Fortunately, the Soyuz rocket returned to flight in September and another Progress resupplied the station in November. But what would had happened if another Soyuz had malfunctioned? In fact, another Soyuz failed in December, just two days after the launch of an ISS crew! We thus narrowly miss a major crisis; if this failure had occurred before the ISS crew launch, the station would had probably been evacuate as long as the Russians solved their problem.
It is important to note that even if the Space Shuttle was still flying, it would had change nothing to the situation since the station needs Soyuz to be kept manned.
The fact is that, as long as ISS depends on one type of vehicle as it does on Soyuz -, its operation will be vulnerable to incidents. By chance, the Soyuz booster (a.k.a. Semiorka) is the best rocket in use today (see Space Launchers Ranking).
There were 137 spacecrafts launched during the year, 8 more than the previous two years. This continues the trend of more and more launches every year that began in 2006 (after record lows of 77 and 78 in 2004 and 2005). Seventy percent of all spacecrafts launched in 2011 were civilian, and 30% military; this also continues the trend of far less military satellites than civilian's. (In the 1960s to 1980s, two-thirds of all spacecrafts launched were military, see graphics.)
Russian launched 25 spacecrafts for itself (as well as 39 for others), U.S. launched 21 for itself (and one for other), China launched 19 spacecrafts (plus two for other) as Europe launched only one of its 10 satellites but orbited 8 commercial payloads (see below, left column and note below). Russia accomplished 52% of the 21 commercial launch contracts available, followed by Europe (33%), as the U.S., China and India completed 5% each.
In 2011, six planetary probes were launched: one toward Jupiter, two toward the Moon and three toward Mars. The Russian and Chinese Mars probes got stuck in Earth orbit, while the Americans Curiosity rover is en route to land on Mars in August 2012.