The U.S. and China surpassed Russia in the maximum number of space rocket launches for 2017, the Moscow Times reported Tuesday. This is the first time Russia has fallen to third place behind China.
The launch rate decreased because of a change in Russia’s space strategy, Alexander Ivanov, deputy chief of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, told the Moscow Times. He said the agency was focusing on reviving existing programs.
Russia will finish 2016 with just 18 launches behind the U.S.’s 20 rocket launches and China’s 19 launches. For decades, Moscow was the undisputed leader in annual launch rates. At the height of the Soviet space program, Moscow launched nearly 100 rockets a year. Russia has launched over 3,000 rockets – roughly doubling the number of rockets launched by the U.S. – since 1957.
However, funding for space programs has dwindled, the Moscow Times report said. For the next decade, Russia has set aside 1.4 trillion rubles ($21.5 billion) for its space program, a figure finalized after three rounds of cuts. U.S.’s NASA had a budget of $19.3 billion in 2016 alone.
Meanwhile, the U.S. will finish 2016 with the dozen rockets scheduled for launch by the United Launch Alliance. If SpaceX returns to flight after its September accident before the end of the year, it would further boost the U.S. tally.