The Soyuz Booster recorded its 1807th and 1808th successful launches in short order yesterday. At 1:28 p.m. EDT, (9:28 p.m. local) a Soyuz 2-1b blasted off from Baikonur carrying the Resource-P Russian remote sensing satellite. Two hours later, at 3:27 p.m. EDT, and half a world away, another Soyuz, this one equipped with a Fregat restartable upper stage, lifted off from the CSG Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. The South American launch deploying the first four satellites of the 03b constellation had been delayed for a day due to high winds, resulting in the very rare duel launch / same day scenario.
Despite its recent problems, which seem to have been overcome with a series of successful launches this year, the Russian space industry is in the midst of a remarkable period of dominance marked by a rapid launch tempo in all versions of the Soyuz, a resurgent Proton, and the comic spectre of two American companies fighting over who has access to Russian built main engines because there aren’t any other suitable alternatives. Even China, which capped off a second visit to the Tiangong 1 space station with a return to Earth yesterday in a journey which might as well be subtitled “Silent Running” owes a clear debt to Russia for the architecture of its Shenzhou spacecraft.
Although the coincidence of two Soyuz launches within two hours is just that, even without the delay it still would have been two launches in two days. Still pretty impressive. But it also makes you wonder, whatever happened to the United States? With Arianespace exerting similar dominance in the market segment for heavy satellites with the Ariane V, and partnering with Russia in the commerical Soyuz, one shudders to ask the question just how far away from relevence would the U.S. be if it were not for the NewSpace movement in general, and a certain company out of Hawthorne, Ca. in particular.