China's space industry has taken huge strides in the past 12 months, culminating in last week's successful landing of a probe on the far side on the moon for the first time in history.
A Long March 3B carrier rocket lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province on Feb 12 to place two Beidou navigation satellites in orbit. (Photo/VCG)
Last year not only saw the start of the Chang'e 4 lunar program, but also marked the first time China had launched more rockets into orbit than any other country in a year.
China saw 39 orbital launches in 2018, equaling the nation's total space missions in the 1990s.
These launches accounted for one-third of the world's space missions last year－more than the combined missions of Russia, the European Union and India, which ranked third to fifth in the annual launch list. The second-highest number of launches was 34 by the United States.
China's 39 missions were the most of any nation in a single year since 2000, when Russia carried out the same number.
In 2017, China conducted 18 space launches, the US 29 and Russia 20. In 2016, China and the US both staged 22 launches.
Largely due to China's space activities, 2018 was the first year since 1990 in which 100 orbital launches were made worldwide. In 1990, 121 launches took place.
Since 1964, more than 100 launches had taken place annually for 27 years, but the numbers tailed off through the 1990s and 2000s for a host of reasons, the main one being the end of the space race between the US and the Soviet Union.
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, the private US aerospace manufacturer and transportation services company, wrote on his Twitter account late last month that he thought China's space progress was "amazing", adding that last year the country had staged more orbital launches than the US for the first time.