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From the (I'd say) historic and pivotal hearing Wednesday, March 5, 2014 Defense Subcommittee (Chairman Durbin) Time and Location: 10:00 a.m., in Room SD-192 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building Agenda:

Richard Durbin Chairman Appropriations Subcomitte:

Mr. Musk one can not help but be impressed by the numbers that you've given us, in terms of the cost your product measure against ULA. We start with the premise that Senator Shelby noted; ULA has a flawless record. It's been able to meet the goals that we've set for them time and time and time again. You're suggestion that is we paid dearly for it, and could pay a lot less now.

I guess the question I need to ask now is the premise of this is/goes back to the creation of ULA. Do you believe it is possible to maintain two companies, in competition, for future launches? And with your company, with a record of success but more limited because of the time that you've been around, without - for example - commercial business to sustain you when government budgets can not?

Elon Musk:

(Uh, yeah, absolutely...) First I should mention that the premise of perfect success is not quite correct for ULA... they certainly have a very good track record, but the first Delta IV Heavy failed, and there was a partial failure of one of the Atlas missions which resulted in a satellite having a reduced life. So it's certainly a good... it would be a flawed premise to say it's perfect.


And in equally distinguished "testimony": @geoffc in The Pod Bay mentions:

100th consecutive, successful launch of a Falcon 9

  • 16th launch of 2021, a cadence of one rocket every nine days

  • 6th launch during the last 33 days, once every five days


Question: Is there a record for an unbroken series of "successful (orbital) launches" (or "perfect success" by some relatively objective criteria)? Who has it now? And what has to happen for it to change hands?

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    $\begingroup$ You are talking about orbital launches, right? $\endgroup$
    – Duck
    May 28 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Duck good point, yes. It won't fit in the title but I've added it to the restatement at the end (and of course that's what ULA, SpaceX and the Appropriations subcommittee are talking about) I think a separate question about suborbital would be interesting, but it might be hard to get a hold of and sift through the 35,000 to 40,000 ICBM tests and sounding rocket launches that have been launched to find a winner. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 28 at 3:21
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Of the American companies ULA and SpaceX, the ULA currently maintains the longest "flawless" streak:

ULA Launch History

ULA Launch history

SpaceX Launch History

SpaceX Launch history

Counting the launches:

  • ULA has had ~126 successful launches since 2007
  • SpaceX has had ~98 successful launches since 2017

Assuming neither company has a failure, SpaceX will soon overtake the ULA, possibly by 2022. That said though, if you include Soyuz and rockets in the R-7 Family...

USSR/Russian R-7 Launch history R-7 Launch history

This shows that between 1991 and 1996 there were approximately 133 consecutive successful orbital launches of the rocket. This means that they currently hold the record, but will be beaten by the ULA and then SpaceX within the next couple years (assuming, of course, the companies don't suffer a failure).


Sources: Wikipedia

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    $\begingroup$ Musk talks about a Delta IV Heavy failure for ULA, where is that datapoint? Or was that a failure during development? $\endgroup$
    – Arsenal
    May 28 at 12:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Arsenal the Delta IV Heavy failure was in 2004 so it isn't shown on the chart. The ULA was only founded in 2006. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    May 28 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ I'd also add SpaceX's 2016 loss of the AMOS-6 payload during fueling for a static fire. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMOS-6_(satellite)#Destruction) It's not technically a failed flight, but it certainly had the same effect on the customer. It doesn't significantly impact SpaceX's incredibly impressive streak of successes, but the fact that the payload was lost pre-flight seems like a minor distinction. $\endgroup$ May 28 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnWalthour I included this in my count--its represented by the black mark in SpaceX's 2016 bar $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    May 28 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ In all fairness, I think the final line should specify that ULA and SpaceX will pass the Russian record only if they have no accidents. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    May 29 at 15:16

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