Who are the Top Earth Observing Satellite Launchers Worldwide?

10th May 2021
Who are the Top Earth Observing Satellite Launchers Worldwide?

Satellite launchers have been around since 1957, when the first artificial Earth satellite was launched. However, it took 15 more years to capture the first image of Earth from space. The photograph, called Blue Marble, was taken on 7th December 1972, by the Apollo 17 crew as it left Earth’s orbit and headed for the Moon. The first clear image of our planet has become popular worldwide and quickly became a symbol of the environmental movement.

Why Is Earth Observing so Important

In almost 65 years, the number of artificial objects in near-earth orbits has reached 20 thousand. Most of them are defunct satellites or their fragments, whereas about 3 thousand are active devices. Earth Observation satellites account for a large share of total spacecraft. They monitor the Earth’s surface, biosphere, atmosphere, and oceans, taking high-resolution images and sending them back to Earth. This technology ensures continuous monitoring of state borders, helps track changes in climate, water basins, fields, forests, seismic activity, and much more.

There are several Earth Observing Systems in the world – a series of satellites for long-term observation. NASA owns the largest share. The oldest program, Landsat, has been around since 1975. Besides, there are several international and national programs in different countries: Chinese Gaofen, Brazilian CBERS, Japanese Himawari, European Sentinel (ESA) and others.

As the number of programs and satellites grows, so does the demand for launching them into required orbits. Let’s see which satellite launchers deploy most Earth Observation satellites.

ТОP5 Earth Observing Satellite Launchers

ULA Delta, USA

Delta II, a rocket manufactured by United Launch Alliance, is the undisputed leader in launching Earth Observation satellites. With its help, satellites and series of satellites such as WorldView, NOAA, RadarSat, GeoEye, as well as most NASA EOS satellites  (Landsat, Callipso, Aqua, Aura, CloudSat, IceSat, Jason), were launched into orbits. In 29 years of its existence, this satellite launcher took off 155 times, completing 100 successful missions in a row.

Chang Zheng, (Long March), China

The Chinese rocket series is rightfully assigned 2nd place, as it launched 14 Gaofen national program satellites, as well as all Nigerian (3), Venezuelan (2), and Brazilian satellites (4) of the CBERS series.

PSLV, India

Indian PSLV launcher series takes third place on our list, as all Indian EO satellites (17) since 1994 have been launched with it. To date, PSLV rockets have carried out about 50 launches, and only 2 of those failed.

H-IIA, Mitsubishi, Japan

The rocket manufactured by the famous Japanese concern Mitsubishi deployed 9 Japanese EO satellites of the Himawari series and 8 satellites of JAXA — the Japanese Space Agency. It carried out 43 launches in 29 years, and 42 of those missions were successful. Japanese quality earns the H-IIA an honorable 4th place in our satellite launcher rating.

Vega, ArianeSpace

From 2012 to 2020, ESA rocket successfully launched over 10 Earth remote sensing satellites into orbit for different countries and organisations. In 2021-2022, ESA plans three more launches for the French CNES and the Italian space agency.

Besides undisputed leaders in the satellite launcher niche, EO satellite missions have been carried out by Atlas ULA, Falcon 9 SpaceX, Soyuz and Vostok Russia, Zenit, Dnepr Ukraine, etc.

The growing number of private aerospace companies building advanced lightweight rockets and satellite technology development should increase the EOS launch supply. Satellites become smaller and get equipped with more powerful imagers, which reduces the requirements for deploying them into orbits. This means that new satellite launchers should soon join the industry.

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