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2002 was the last time the USA led the number of space launches, but following the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, Russia topped the list every year from 2003 to 2015. In 2016, Russia fell to third place for the number of launch attempts, with U.S. and China — 22 attempts each — overtaking its 19 attempts (of which 18 were successful). Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket flew a record 18 missions during the year. United Launch Alliance’s (Boeing-Lockheed Martin) joint venture completed eight U.S. government missions this year aboard Atlas and Delta rockets, including five from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and three from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That total was down from 12 last year, and half as many as SpaceX has launched in 2017.

ULA tentatively has a dozen government missions scheduled in 2018.

Analysis shows an estimated 2020 cost of $422 million per ULA launch if the Air Force selected United Launch Alliance to conduct them. That combines costs for launches using ULA’s large Delta rocket as well as its smaller, less expensive Atlas V rocket. SpaceX has been awarded two Air Force contracts at far lower per-launch costs of $83 million and $96.5 million. Despite SpaceX being less than one-fourth of the cost of ULA, there is still criticism from some politicians and The Federalist that SpaceX is somehow wasting US taxpayer money.




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