All the amazing rocket launches that happened this summer

Summer 2020 has been one of the busiest ever for rocket launches, with multiple teams across the globe working overtime to make their missions happen.

And with many of these missions being historic in their own ways, it’s clearly been a remarkable period for space travel, one made all the more astonishing as this flurry of flights took place in the midst of a global pandemic.

To celebrate this unprecedented spell of lively launchpad activity, we’ve compiled a collection of the most notable launches that occurred over the last three months. Enjoy!

SpaceX launches first astronaut mission with Crew Dragon capsule

Rocket: Falcon 9 (SpaceX)
Mission operator: SpaceX
Mission name: Crew Demo-2
Launch date: May 30, 2020
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

SpaceX enjoyed a number of triumphs with its Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission on May 30. With NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken behind the controls, it was the first astronaut launch in the company’s 18-year history, and saw the first use of a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft. But that’s not all — it also involved the first crewed launch from U.S. soil since the final space shuttle liftoff in 2011, and the first U.S. splashdown of returning crew since 1975.

Upon the astronauts’ safe return in early August, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the successful mission marked “a new age of space exploration,” adding, “We’re going to go to the moon, we’re going to have a base on the moon, we’re going to send people to Mars, and make life multiplanetary.”

SpaceX completes its first Starlink satellite rideshare launch

Rocket: Falcon 9 (SpaceX)
Mission operator: SpaceX
Mission name: Starlink-8
Launch date: June 13, 2020
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

Many of SpaceX’s summer launches saw it deploying more satellites for its ambitious broadband-from-space Starlink project, but the mission that departed Cape Canaveral on June 13 also marked the start of its Smallsat Rideshare Program where companies can pay for space on its rockets to send their own small satellites into space. In this case, SpaceX’s 58 Starlink satellites were accompanied by three satellites from San Francisco-based Earth imaging company Planet.

First interplanetary mission by Arab states blasts off

Rocket: H-IIA (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries)
Mission operator: UAE Space Agency/Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre
Mission name: Emirate Mars Mission
Launch date: July 16, 2020
Launch site: Tanegashima, Japan

The July launch was a major achievement for the United Arab Emirates as it marked the first interplanetary mission for an Arab state. It means that right now a Mars-bound spacecraft called “Amal,” meaning “Hope,” is on a 308 million-mile, seven-month mission to the red planet where scientists say it will become the first to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its various layers after it arrives in 2021.

SpaceX scores two firsts with Falcon 9 mission

Rocket: Falcon 9 (SpaceX)
Mission operator: SpaceX
Mission name: ANASIS-II
Launch date: July 20, 2020
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

This mission, which saw SpaceX carry a South Korean military satellite into orbit, saw the company achieve a new record for the quickest turnaround time for the reuse of a rocket. Previously held by NASA with the space shuttle Atlantis that flew again after 54 days in 1985, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster launched again after just 51 days. SpaceX hopes to eventually reduce the turnaround time to just days as it works to make its launch services even more efficient. The mission also scored another first as two net-equipped ships in the Atlantic caught both parts of the Falcon 9’s rocket fairing as they floated back to Earth soon after launch.

China’s Tianwen-1 rover mission blasts off for Mars

Rocket: Long March-5 (China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology)
Mission operator: China National Space Administration
Mission name: Tianwen-1
Launch date: July 23, 2020
Launch site: Wenchang, Hainan, China

China’s powerful Long March-5 rocket carried an orbiter, a lander, and a rover into space, marking the first time for a mission to attempt to send three such craft to Mars at the same time. When it arrives in 2021, the lander will attempt to deliver the rover to the Martian surface where it’ll study its surroundings for evidence of current and past life, and also assess the planet’s environment. The orbiter will use a host of scientific instruments to find out more about Mars’ atmosphere and climate, and also map the planet’s surface.

NASA launches Perseverance rover for Mars

Rocket: Atlas V (United Launch Alliance)
Mission operator: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Mission name: Mars 2020
Launch date: July 30, 2020
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

Completing a trio of Mars-bound launches in the space of just two weeks, NASA launched its most sophisticated rover to date to the faraway planet. When it arrives in February 2021, Perseverance will set about exploring the surface for evidence of ancient life, gather rock and soil samples for return to Earth at a later date, and collect data for future human exploration of the planet. Traveling with Perseverance is Ingenuity, a small autonomous helicopter that’s set to become the first aircraft to fly on another planet when it arrives next year.

Europe launches Ariane 5 rocket for the first time since pandemic began

Rocket: Ariane 5 (Arianespace)
Mission operator: Arianespace
Mission name: Ariane VA253
Launch date: August 15, 2020
Launch site: Kourou, French Guiana

Arianespace finally got its Ariane 5 rocket back into the sky again on August 15 after the coronavirus forced the suspension of flights from March following its last one a month earlier. The last time that the France-based launch service provider left six months between launches was in 2014, so the disruption was significant. Arianespace’s welcome return in August saw its workhorse Ariane 5 rocket carry two telecom satellites into orbit, one for Intelsat and another for Broadcasting Satellite System Corporation, as well as a servicing satellite for global aerospace and defense technology firm Northrop Grumman.

SpaceX achieves its 100th launch

Rocket: Falcon 9 (SpaceX)
Mission operator: SpaceX
Mission name: Starlink-11
Launch date: August 18, 2020
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

This, its eleventh Starlink mission, was SpaceX’s 100th rocket launch since starting out with its Falcon 1 rocket in 2006, and its 92nd Falcon 9 launch. It was also the first time for a single Falcon 9 booster to fly for the sixth time. The launch saw SpaceX deploy 58 Starlink satellites as well as three SkySat Earth-imaging smallsats for Planet.

SpaceX launch leads to first on-shore landing in five months

Rocket: Falcon 9 (SpaceX)
Mission operator: SpaceX
Mission name: SAOCOM-1B
Launch date: August 30, 2020
Launch site: Cape Canaveral, Florida

SpaceX has pretty much perfected the art of landing a returning Falcon 9 booster shortly after launch. These days they usually land on a drone ship floating in the sea, but the cameras on board the ships rarely provide the best footage for space fans keen to watch this spectacular maneuver. So when we heard SpaceX was planning to attempt its first landing in five months after carrying an Argentinian satellite to space, we couldn’t wait to see it. And we weren’t disappointed.

Rocket Lab returns after July mishap (plus an extra surprise)

Rocket: Electron (Rocket Lab)
Mission operator: Rocket Lab
Mission name: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical
Launch date: August 31, 2020
Launch site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand

The “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical” mission marked Rocket Lab’s first launch since its failed flight on July 5 when a complication during the second-stage burn resulted in the loss of its Electron rocket and the seven satellites it was carrying. Like SpaceX, Rocket Lab is also working to make a success of the smallsat launch business, and its successful return to service at the end of August has put it back on course for more achievements in the future. Several days after the mission in which it deployed an observation satellite for San Francisco-based Capella Space, Rocket Lab revealed that it also deployed something special of its own.

Arianespace takes on SpaceX in smallsat rideshare business

Rocket: Vega (Arianespace)
Mission operator: Arianespace
Mission name: VV16
Launch date: September 2, 2020
Launch site: Kourou, French Guiana

Arianespace is yet another company intent on making a success of the smallsat rideshare business. This mission, which launched in September, carried 53 microsatellites, nanosatellites, and CubeSats into space in its debut rideshare mission for lightweight satellites. Making full use of its European connections, Arianespace hopes to attract business from companies in the region looking to deploy small satellites in orbit.

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