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SPACE FLIGHT 2005 - The Year in Review

Space Flight in 2005 made a number of significant strides both in human and robotic activities, moving ahead in its increasingly dominant theme: progress toward human exploration ventures outside the Earth's boundaries. But based on number of launches to orbit plus the number of launched satellite payloads, the utilization of space, which had reached its lowest level in 2004 since 1961, in 2005 remained on that level without showing signs of reversing this trend. For the second consecutive year, the number of space launches attempted worldwide totaled 55 (including three failed). However, in terms of commercial satellite sales, with 19 geostationary-orbit commercial communications satellites (comsats) ordered worldwide from suppliers like Lockheed Martin, Orbital Sciences Corp. and Alcatel Alenia Space, 2005 brought a significant improvement over the 12 satellites ordered in 2004. Four of the world's top 10 satellite-fleet operators reported increased revenues for 2005, with demand from television broadcasters remaining high and the promise of high-definition television (HDTV) comer closer to fruition

As the United States space budget managed to stay its course on a relatively stable level, a major milestone was the return of the Space Shuttle to flight. But Russian launch services continued to dominate human flights. Commercial flights increased above previous-year level, and international space activities extended their trends of reduced public spending and modest launch services. A total of 52 successful launches worldwide (2004: 53; 2003: 60; 2002: 61; 2001: 57) carried 72 payloads (2004: 73). The three failed launches (up from two in 2004) were all Russian: a Molniya-M (Soyuz derivative), a Volna submarine-launched modified ballistic missile, and a Rokot.

In 2005, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) completed a successful year of milestones and discoveries as the agency began to implement the Vision for Space Exploration, mandated by President George W. Bush on January 14, 2004, America's long-term plan for returning astronauts to the moon to prepare for voyages to Mars and other destinations in the solar system. The year included returning the Space Shuttle to flight, the announcement of plans for America's next generation spacecraft, and numerous scientific milestones. The first Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) since the Columbia loss in 2003 included breathtaking maneuvers, spacewalks and tests of new procedures and safety equipment. The flight was successful, but engineers remained concerned about the shedding of some insulating foam material off the external tank and called for more work until the next Shuttle mission, which slipped to mid-2006. Launched in January 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft traveled approximately 268 million miles to meet and collide with comet Tempel 1, while on Mars the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity completed a full Martian year of exploration and discovery, which included evidence that water once flowed across the Martian surface and may still be there today. A new Mars mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), was launched to rendezvous with the Red Planet on March 10, 2006, the Cassini/Huygens spacecraft made history at Saturn, landing the Huygens probe successfully on the moon Titan and touring the other Saturn moons for breathtaking photography and measurements, and the Hubble Space Telescope continued exploration and discovery.

The commercial space market leveled out in 2005 and reversed itself after its 2004 decline, begun in 2003 (after a surprising recovery in 2002 from the dramatic slump of the previous years). Of the 52 successful launches worldwide, about 23 (44%) were commercial launches (carrying 36 commercial payloads), compared to 19 (36%) in 2004 (2003: 20 [33%]). In the civil science satellite area, worldwide launches totaled six, down three from the preceding year.

Russia's space program, despite chronic shortage of state funding, showed continued dependable participation in the build-up of the ISS. This partnership had become particularly important after the shuttle stand-down caused by the loss of Columbia on February 1, 2003. Europe's space activities in 2005 rose over the previous year's total of three missions, with five flights of the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle, which brought the number of successes of this vehicle to 25.

The People's Republic of China in 2005 successfully launched its second crewed spaceflight, bringing the total of crewed flights in this year to four, carrying 15 humans (2004: 6). This brought the total number of people launched into space since 1958 (counting repeaters) to 989, incl. 100 women, respectively 443 individuals (38 women), in a total of 249 missions. Some significant space events in 2005 are listed in Table 1, and the launches and attempts are enumerated by country in Table 2.

Bibliography Aviation Week & Space Technology (AW&ST, various '05 issues); Aerospace Daily (various '05 issues), SPACE NEWS (various '05 issues); AIAA AEROSPACE AMERICA, November 2005 issue; NASA Public Affairs Office News Releases '05; ESA Press Releases '05; various Internet sites.