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Space Environment: Payloads Launched by Country

United States China Russia  Total  US launch as percent/total
2019 253 49 29 331 76%
2020 959 65 23 1047 92%
2021 1215 78 16 1309 93%

As of June 9, 2022. All data pulled from 

United States Total Number of Starlink Payloads Starlink as % of all US payloads Starlink as % of all payloads (US, Russia, and China) 
2019 253 119 47% 36%
2020 959 832 87% 79%
2021 1215 988 81% 75%

As of June 9, 2022. All data pulled from 

Starlink Satellites Dominate Total Number of Payloads Launched From 2019-2022

SpaceX launched the first sixty Starlink satellites into orbit aboard the Falcon 9 rocket in May of 2019. These were the inaugural payloads of the company’s satellite constellation. Satellites in a constellation function together as a system, enabling operators to provide cutting-edge communication and internet services at a lower cost. 

Constellations have been a source of great controversy in the global space community. The first batch of Starlink satellites had a failure rate of five percent, and other early launches exhibited failure rates ranging from two and a half to three percent by various estimates. While these are relatively low failure rates for satellite constellations, the Starlink constellation is unusually large by historical standards, meaning that even a low failure rate is worrisome as it can create more debris and orbital congestion than its predecessors. The Starlink constellation has also earned the ire of astronomers who have reported that the satellites disrupt night sky visibility.

Starlink also has its proponents. By bypassing the need for traditional ground infrastructure, the constellation will be able to provide internet connectivity to locations where internet service has been previously weak or altogether inaccessible. Following the Russian cyberattack that disabled Ukrainian internet service in February 2022, SpaceX illustrated the unique value of the constellation when it successfully provided internet connectivity to Ukraine.

The following is an excerpt from Appendix A of “Escalation and Deterrence in the Second Space Age,” a featured report from the CSIS Aerospace Security Project. 

Read "Escalation and Deterrence in the Second Space Age"

Satellite Databases

The analysis of the space environment presented utilizes data from publicly available databases, including (Space-Track),1 the Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) website,2 and Gunter’s Space Page (GSP).3

Space-Track Database

Space-Track is an online catalog that organizes and publishes historical and current space object data collected by the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC). The catalog contains over 40,000 individual entries, including both deorbited and in-orbit payloads, rocket bodies, and pieces of debris. This particular study focused only on payload objects.

Space-Track’s catalog includes each space object’s name, international designator, country of origin, and orbital parameters (as well as its launch site, date of decay if applicable, and radar cross section size if available) from Sputnik 1, launched in 1957 and deorbited in 1958, to the most recent object launched in 2017.  This study focused only on objects launched before December 31, 2016.

UCS Satellite Database

The Union of Concerned Scientists organizes and publishes a catalog of satellites currently in orbit, updated quarterly, called the UCS Satellite Database. The most recently updated database is publicly available on their website, and earlier versions can be provided upon request. In addition to the information provided by Space-Track, the UCS database also includes information on each satellite’s purpose and type (Civil, Commercial, or Military).

GSP Chronology of Space Launches

Gunter’s Space Page provides a detailed, narrative description of most payloads’ purpose, manufacturer, and operator. GSP is a privately organized, publicly available database.

Key Definitions

Figure 6: International Designator for the International Space Station (ISS).


International Designator (IntDes)

The international designator, or COSPAR number,4 of a satellite describes a satellite’s position in the history of all space launches. The first four digits denote the year the object was launched, the second three digits denote the order in which that object was launched during the given year, and the final combination of letters differentiate individual satellites within a specific launch system. Objects that begin with the same seven digits were launched concurrently on the same launch system. Refer to Figure 3 for an example of an international designator.

Country of Origin

In Figure 1 of Escalation and Deterrence, the total number of space launches per year are displayed by country. While Space-Track includes the country of origin for each space object in its database, several assumptions were made to create the relevant figure. Space-Track lists all space objects launched by the Soviet Union and Russia as owned and operated by “CIS” or the Commonwealth of Independent States.5 For clarity, the Commonwealth is written as “Soviet Union/Russia” in Figure 1.

Figure 1 also includes the number of space launches by the European Union (EU). This category is a combination of several more specific countries of origin included in Space-Track’s database. It includes all member states at the time of publication.6 Here, the European Union is defined as all current member states, the European Space Agency, the European Space Research Organization, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Eutelsat), Société Européenne des Satellites (SES), and also satellites launched by different combinations of EU member states.

Military, Non-Government Military, and Commercial

While the UCS Satellite Database includes the type (Civil, Commercial, or Military) of currently operating satellites, a majority of the space objects analyzed for Figure 2 are no longer in orbit. Thus, this study included a comprehensive categorization of satellite types using the Gunther database.

If a satellite is owned and operated by a company that is more than 50% state-owned, it has been categorized as “Non-Military Government.”

Defining the Second Space Age

In the first chapter of this report, it was noted that the second space age can be principally defined by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which slowed Russia’s launch pace, and the disruptive entrance of other non-U.S., non-Soviet actors into the space domain. Plotting the cumulative rate of space launches by country (United States, Soviet Union/Russia, Others) reveals a quantifiable expression of these statements.

Figure 7: Cumulative Space Launches by Country. The total number of historical launches by year for the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia and all other space-faring nations.

The United States’ launch rate remains approximately constant and linear, with a slight increase in the 1960s corresponding with NASA’s Apollo Program. From 1967 (ten years after the launch of Sputnik 1) to 1990, the Soviet Union’s launch rate was almost precisely linear, with about 90 new launches per year. After the dust settled from the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s launch rate sank to fewer than 17 launches per year from 1995 to 2016. Other actors, primarily Japan, China, and member states of the European Union, experienced a great increase in space launches following 1991. During the first space age, other countries successfully launched approximately 30 payloads per year. Afterwards, the launch rate more closely resembled an exponential increase with a 5.5% growth factor.

Further Analysis

Only a fraction of the available data in Space-Track’s online catalog was utilized for this study. Further analysis can be done to quantify certain characteristics of the first and second space age. Other categories of interest could include orbital regimes (which could be calculated from the orbital parameters provided with each line element of the catalog), launch sites, object size, and object lifespan.