Cluster Newsletter vol. 7: China Takes Commanding Lead in Rocket Launches

Photo by Alejandro Luengo on Unsplash

November 20, 2019

Hi there,

In our last newsletter, we mentioned how private US rocket companies are racing to be the first to fly an American astronaut to the ISS, but when it comes to total orbital launches, the US is competing for runner-up. Scroll down to see how we’re faring against China and Russia in the three-way competition that bodes well for innovation in aerospace technology.

Tomorrow (November 21st), you can find me in Chicago for Rockwell Automation's "Automation Fair" where I'll be covering the future of learning and work. Check out Rockwell's Facebook or YouTube page for live streaming video of the conversation.  

And stay tuned to our blog for the latest happenings in aerospace, engineering and hiring. We’ll see you in a fortnight.

Kim Taylor
CEO, Cluster

           A Decade of Orbital Launches

Source: Gunter's Space Page

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Source: Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash

China Leads the World in Rocket Launches – Again

  • Retaining its crown for a second straight year, China's space program achieved more launches this year than any other country with 27 so far.  
  • Russia trails in second place with 19 orbital missions, followed by the United States at only 16. However, with a month and a half remaining in the year, the US could see up to six additional orbital launches, which won't be enough to catch up to the leader but good enough for silver.  
  • A decrease in activity by SpaceX is partially responsible for the United States’ middling showing. The private space company launched a record 21 missions last year, but only 11 so far in 2019.  
  • China's government revealed its long-term ambitions for spaceflight which includes establishing an Earth-Moon space economic zone by 2050. Success would allow the country to dictate rules for future space exploration.
  • The Chinese space program has experienced its share of difficulties in its extraterrestrial pursuits. It is still attempting to resume launches of its large Long March 5 vehicle following a disastrous failure in July 2017. And the country has had three launch failures in 2018 and 2019, while the US and Russia had just one between them.

          more here >>

Like Elon Musk, Boeing Realizes Humans Are Underrated

  • For the last four years, Boeing has tried to go all-in on automation, using robots to build two main fuselage sections for its 777 jetliners and 777X. But after persistent problems with the machines, the aerospace giant has decided to bring humans back into the fold.
  • The planemaker decided to switch to a new "human-plus-machine" system and will rely on skilled mechanics to manually insert fasteners into holes drilled along the circumference of the fuselage by an automated system known as “flex tracks.”  
  • Boeing begun implementing the system back in Q2 and full rollout should be complete by year's end. The flex track solution has proven more reliable, requiring less work by hand and less rework, than what the robots were capable of.
  • Robots had trouble moving in sync on the outside and inside of the fuselage panels, creating production snarls which required a swell of worker overtime to finish incomplete jobs.
  • The company follows in the footsteps of Tesla in reverting to a human-plus-machine system after experiencing production nightmares associated with a heavily mechanized workforce.

       more here >>

Today’s roundup was written by Lawren Henderson with contributions from Kim Taylor and Justin Parker in Los Angeles.

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Upcoming Events in SoCal


Nov 18-21: Automobility LA
Los Angeles Convention Center
Los Angeles
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Dec 12:  JPL and the Space Age History Documentary Series: "Breaking Point"
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Source: NASA

Assembling Saturn rockets at the Michoud Assembly Facility. New Orleans. 1961