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SPACE FLIGHT 2007 - The Year in Review

Space Flight in 2007 was a busy year for the United States and around the world with an accelerated trend of modest but steady growth in human and robotic activities, moving forward in its three dominant themes: commercial utilization of low and geosynchronous orbits, science missions into the Solar System, and expansion of human presence in  space toward exploration further outward from Earth's boundaries.  Based on number of launches to orbit plus the number of launched satellite payloads, the utilization of space, which had reached its lowest level since 1961 in 2004, remained on that level in 2005 and showed signs of reversing this trend in 2006, in 2007 increased markedly.   After staying at 55 total space launch attempts worldwide for two consecutive years, then climbing to 66 total launches in 2006 (including four failed), the number of launches in 2007 reached 68 (including 3 failed attempts).  The number of large commercial satellites (31) launched into space, including geostationary orbit (GEO), exhibited robust rise for the second year (2006: 21, 2005: 19, 2004: 12), after a stagnant period during 2002-2004.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) moved forward in 2007 to explore the solar system, expand our knowledge of Earth and its place in the universe, and continue building the International Space Station (ISS).  The space shuttle flew three highly successful missions to continue the station's assembly, and construction began on projects designed to send astronauts to the moon, where they will establish a permanent outpost and prepare for eventual voyages to Mars.  Space science missions were launched to Mars and the asteroid belt.  Closer to home, Earth science satellites made a number of key discoveries, such as how waterways beneath an Antarctic ice stream affect sea level and the world's largest ice sheet.

As the United States space budget continued to stay its course on a relatively stable level with some upward adjustment for inflation, a major focus was the return to “routine” operations for the the space shuttle in steady support of the ISS.  But Russian launch services continued to dominate human flights as in the previous year.  International space activities extended their trends of modest public spending and cautiously increasing launch services.   The 68 successful launches worldwide (2006: 62, 2005: 52; 2004: 53; 2003: 60; 2002: 61; 2001: 57) carried 101 payloads (2006: 99, 2005: 72; 2004: 73) in such areas as communications & data relay, earth observation & early warning, ISS resupply, navigation, science & technology, exploration for military, government and commercial users.  Of the three failed launches (down from four in 2006; 2005: 3; 2004: 2) one was Russian (a Proton-M), one US-military+commercial (Falcon-1), and one a Sea Launch Zenit 3SL (60% foreign owned, non-US carrier).   

By end-2007, NASA looked back on a successful year of milestones and discoveries as the agency went into the third year after implementing 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 three space shuttle flights, further progress in preliminary design and procurement for America’s next generation spacecraft, and a number of scientific milestones.  The fifth, sixth and seventh Shuttle missions to the ISS since the Columbia loss in 2003 continued a vigorous program of assembling the space station with delivery of large components and supporting spacewalks by crewmembers.  Launched in August 2007, NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft set out on a eight-months voyage to Mars, for a first-time landing in the north-polar region of the Red Planet in May 2008.  In September, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, the first purely scientific U.S. mission powered by solar electric ion propulsion, set out on a deep-space voyage to rendezvous and orbit asteroids 4 Vesta and 1 Ceres located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  On the Mars surface, the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, having long exceeded their expected design life, continued their exploration, amazing scientists with their findings.  The Cassini spacecraft made more history in the planetary system of Saturn, the Spitzer Space Telescope continued its deep probes of the far reaches of the cosmos, and the Hubble Space Telescope added to its wealth of unique discoveries as another shuttle mission to service and upgrade its onboard systems, the fourth, was being readied by NASA for 2008.

The commercial space launch market dipped below the 2006 level, which had stayed below 2005 after some initial improvement following a 2004 decline, begun in 2003.  Of the 68 (2006:62; 2005: 52) successful launches worldwide, 20 (29%) were commercial launches [2006: 21/34%, 2005: 23/44%]  carrying 26 commercial payloads, compared to 33 in 2006, 36 in 2005, 19 (36%) in 2004, and 20 [33%] in 2003.  In the civil science satellite area, worldwide launches totaled 10 (plus 16 microsats launch by Russia), two less than in the preceding year.  NASA expanded cooperation with private-owned companies entering into the commercial space transportation enterprise, signing unfunded agreements with five companies (SpaceDev, SPACEHAB, Transformational Space, PlanetSpace, Constellation Services International) and entered into funded agreements with two companies,- SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) and RPK (Rocketplane Kistler) under NASA’s competition for COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) demonstrations.

Russia’s space program, with a recently started slow but steady annual increase in state funding, showed continued dependable participation in the build-up of the ISS.  This partnership again proved salutary during a 4-months stand-down of Shuttle launches from February to June 2007 when a hail storm at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) caused damage to the external tank’s foam insulation and an Orbiter wings’ heat shield tiles.  Europe's space activities in 2007 increased over the previous year’s total of five flights of the Ariane 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle, bringing the number of successes of this vehicle to 36.  China launched ten Long March rockets, four more than in 2006, Japan had two lanches, four less than in 2006, India accomplished three launches, and Israel launched one rocket.

The total number of people flown into space since 1958 (counting repeaters) in 2007 rose to 1039, incl. 113 women, respectively 463 individuals (46 women), in a total of 257 missions.  Some significant space events in 2007 are listed in Table 1, and the launches and attempts are enumerated by country in Table 2.

Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer
June 25, 2008

Bibliography.   Aviation Week & Space Technology (AW&ST, various ‘07 issues); Aerospace Daily (various ’07 issues), SPACE NEWS (various ‘07 issues); AIAA AEROSPACE AMERICA, December 2007 issue; NASA Public Affairs Office News Releases ’07; ESA Press Releases '07; various Internet sites.