April 12, 2010: In the last two decades, China has carried out 30 commercial satellite launches, putting 36 satellites in orbit. China's "Long March" rocket is based on Russian designs, meaning it is simple, cheap and reliable. This has made China a major player in the satellite launching business. China competes on price. The Space Shuttle is being retired because it's the most expensive way get stuff into orbit. Satellites sent up via the Shuttle cost $25 million a ton. The Russians and Chinese will do it for $3-6 million a ton. But insurance can more than double that cost if there have been a number of recent failures with Russian and Chinese boosters. This keeps more reliable American and European boosters in business. The Long March has a failure rate of about 11 percent, which is about twice the rate of the most used Russian launcher. The Space Shuttle failure rate is two percent.
The Chinese Long March can put 9.5 tons in low earth orbit, and 5.5 tons in a high one (geostationary transfer orbit). The Chinese took their time to perfect Long March, requiring 28 years to make the first fifty launches, and nine years for the next fifty. So far, Long March has carried out 123 launches.
Some 900 active satellites are in orbit, and nearly half of them are American. About 75 percent of all satellites are non-military (most of them commercial, the rest government non-military birds.) The Russian Sputnik was the first satellite ever put in orbit, in 1957. The U.S. followed in 1958. Since then, eight other nations, including Iran, have done the same. Ukraine was the last to do so, in 1995. Israel launched its first satellite in 1988. France launched its first satellite in 1965, Japan and China in 1970, Britain in 1971, and India in 1980. Iran claims to have put a satellite in orbit recently, but there is no conclusive proof.