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2021 SpaceX launch calendar: Dates, payload, crew

SpaceX is making moves with Starlink, Crew Dragon, and Starship

The year 2021 is slated to be another big year for SpaceX, as the company continues to drive its major projects forward. From a space-based internet service available everywhere on Earth, to a passenger transport vessel eventually destined for Mars, below is the SpaceX launch schedule for the year.

Keep this page bookmarked all year as it will be updated with new information as it becomes available.

Quarter 1 SpaceX launches:

January 2021

SpaceX Mission : Türksat 5A

Date — January 7, 2021

Launch site — Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida

Payload — The Turkish telecommunication satellite, Türksat 5A

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 is expected to land on the Just Read the Instructions droneship.

Crewed — Nope, just the satellite.

The Background — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be used to launch the Turkish communication satellite, built by Airbus Defense and Space, according to Everyday Astronaut. Türksat 5A is one of several satellites that Turkey has launched or plans to launch to support the country’s attempt to get a corner on the global satellite communications market. According to Satellite Today, the Turkish Space Agency was established in 2018 with a central goal of implementing Turkey’s National Space Program.

“Turkey is ambitiously moving forward to become a competitive space systems manufacturer, and will become a stakeholder for manned and unmanned space missions in the near future,” Türksat CEO, Cenk Sen, was quoted as saying in Satellite Today.

Türksat 5A will be the most powerful satellite in the Turkish fleet.

SpaceX Mission : Starship SN9 High Altitude Test Flight

Date — January 13, 2021

Launch site — Pad B, South Texas Launch Site, Texas

Payload — Just Starship

Landing site — SpaceX South Texas Landing Zone

Crewed — Nope, just Starship.

The Background — After a successful launch and terminal landing in 2020, SpaceX continues to develop its interplanetary shuttle, Starship, which the company eventually plans to use to transport people to the Moon and Mars. Once fully operational, Starship is designed to carry 100 metric tons to interplanetary destinations. The name “Starship” references both the spacecraft and the Super Heavy rocket used to launch it.

Having recovered from falling over in High Bay at the Texas SpaceX facility, the SN9 seems ready to launch, pending a bit more ground based testing. According to Next Spaceflight, the prototype will launch to an altitude of 12.5 km and then attempt a propulsive landing.

“Production is hard, prototypes are easy. Building ~1000 Starships to create a self-sustaining city on Mars is our mission,” SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk said on Twitter.

SpaceX Mission : Transporter-1

Date — January 14, 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 40, Florida

Payload — This is what's called a "rideshare" mission, when various small satellite operators send up their payloads on a single rocket, the SpaceX Falcon 9. According to space blog Everyday Astronaut, there could be more than 100 satellites on board.

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 is expected to land on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Crewed — Nope, just the satellites.

The Background — This mission is headed to sun-synchronous orbit, which is an orbit around the Earth that's quite nearly a north-south rotation.

What's interesting about this mission is the size of the satellites. While you might think of them as fairly large objects in the night sky, the ones in this mission are much smaller. The microsatellites and nanosatellites have various communications purposes, from transmitting sensitive government information to phone services for the public. It's the third mission in the SpaceX Smallsat Program, which offers to get customers' tiny sats to space for the low, low price of $1 million — which is a deal in space terms. This is the first of the three launches that's totally focused on putting small sats into orbit; the other two had other larger objectives.

One of the players involved is Exolaunch, a German company that wrangles satellites from various companies that want to launch them, and handles other logistics for SpaceX. What's cool about them is their new EXOport product, which is a carrying vessel onboard the Falcon 9 from which the satellites float into orbit after separation. Check out this detailed rendering of what that EXOport separation event might look like.

SpaceX Mission : Starlink-16

Date — January 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

Payload — The 16th batch of Starlink satellites

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 is expected to land on a SpaceX droneship.

Crewed — Nope, just the satellites.

The Background — This mission will continue to build infrastructure for Starlink, the company's planned space-based high-speed internet service. Starlink will be composed of thousands of satellites which orbit the Earth at 550 kilometers, providing internet to practically anyone who has a ground terminal.

The SpaceX website details the company’s goal of providing widespread satellite internet coverage without contributing to Earth’s space trash problem. The satellites are outfitted with a propulsion system that will bring them into Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their life, where they will be incinerated. Even if this propulsion system becomes inoperable, SpaceX says that, by positioning the network at 550 kilometers, as opposed to a more standard 1,000 + kilometer orbit, Starlink satellites are well positioned to burn up in the atmosphere within a one to five years of the end of their lives. They say that satellites at higher altitudes may take hundreds or thousands of years to burn up.

SpaceX Mission : Starlink-17

Date — January 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

Payload — The 17th batch of Starlink satellites

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 is expected to land on a SpaceX droneship.

Crewed — Nope, just the satellites.

The Background — This mission will continue to build infrastructure for Starlink, the company's planned space-based high-speed internet service. Starlink will be composed of thousands of satellites which orbit the Earth at 550 kilometers, providing internet to practically anyone who has a ground terminal.

Inverse has previously reported that Starlink is negatively affecting astronomy because the array of satellites, numbering now in the hundreds, are disrupting observations at observatories around the world. When all is said and done, the array is planned to include around 42,000 satellites.

Since the satellites can be seen with the naked eye, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) released a statement saying that, as Starlink grows, it threatens not just scientific inquiry, but also our “uncontaminated view of the night sky.”

February 2021

SpaceX Mission : Starlink-18

Date — February 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

Payload — The 18th batch of Starlink satellites

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 is expected to land on a SpaceX droneship.

Crewed — Nope, just the satellites.

The Background — It’s yet more Starlink satellites. Right now, they’re sending up roughly 60 at a go, so it will take awhile to build up to the 42,000 satellite goal.

March 2021

SpaceX Mission : Crew Dragon Crew-2

Crew-2 astronauts. From left to right, Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Akihiko Hoshide (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Thomas Pesquet (European Space Agency)

Date — March 30, 2021

Launch site — Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — Astronauts and gear

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used to launch Crew-1 landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — Yessir

The Background — Crew-2 will carry astronauts Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet. They will remain on the station to conduct scientific research for about 6 months and enjoy the use of the new and improved ISS space toilet.

Inverse previously reported that, when the NASA space shuttle program ended in 2011, they didn't have a great way to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. This is a pretty big bummer if you're in the business of conducting scientific research in space.

For awhile, NASA astronauts hitched rides on Russian rockets for $80 million dollars a seat. To resolve this problem in the long term, NASA created the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). To participate in the program, commercial partners such as SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing bid on transport contracts and develop new space transport technology which are subject to NASA's safety standards.

SpaceX's version of an ISS transport vessel is Crew Dragon, which has thus far completed flown two crewed missions. The Crew Dragon Crew- 1 mission docked at ISS in November 2020 and was preceded by a May 2020 crewed demonstration mission.

According to NASA, "by encouraging industry to provide human transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit, NASA can expand its focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions."

SpaceX Mission: SARah 1

Date — Q1 2021

Launch site — Vandenberg Air Force Base,, California

Payload — SARah 1 German reconnaissance satellite

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — According to NASA Spaceflight, SpaceX was awarded the contract to launch Germany's new fleet of three military satellites including SARah 1. The new satellites will replace Germany's old fleet, SAR-Lupe.

Space X Mission : Cargo Dragon CRS-22

Illustration of International Space Station with multiple docked space craft including SpaceX CRS-21NASA

Date — Spring 2021

Launch site — According to Space News, SpaceX plans to use LC-39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, to take advantage of the facility's crew access arm for loading cargo while the vessel is in a vertical position

Payload — NASA cargo and supplies

Landing site — After the launch of the CRS-21 mission, stage one of the Falcon 9 rocket landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — No

The Background — Details about CRS-22 are scant, but will be the 22nd supply run to the ISS under the company's contract with NASA. According to Space News, the remotely controlled Cargo Dragon spacecraft is designed similarly to the Crew Dragon spacecraft and is able to transport material that require a pressurized environment. It is capable of docking at the ISS under its own power as opposed to requiring retrieval with the space stations mechanical arm, differentiating it from the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft which is also contracted to deliver supplies and cargo to the ISS.

Also unlike the upcoming Cygnus spacecraft mission, after which the craft will burn up in the atmosphere, Cargo Dragon can survive the trip home. CRS-21 will be leaving the ISS in early January 2021 carrying research materials including the results of zero gravity organ development experiments.

Quarter 2 SpaceX launches:

SpaceX Mission: USSF-44

The details of the USSF-44 mission are classified.U.S Space Force / Shutterstock / Inverse

Date — Q2 2021

Launch site — Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — Classified

Landing site — According to Next Spaceflight, this will be the first SpaceX landing to utilize both the Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read the Instructions droneships.

Crewed — No

The Background — SpaceX will wield the Falcon Heavy rocket to launch a classified U.S Space Force payload directly into geostationary orbit (GTO). The Falcon Heavy is more powerful than the standard Falcon 9 rocket, and was the vessel used to launch Elon Musk's red roadster into space. According to the SpaceX website, the company was selected by U.S. Space Force to "carry out critical National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions ordered over the next five years."

June 2021

SpaceX Mission : Türksat 5B

Date — June 2021

Launch site — Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, Florida

Payload — The Turkish telecommunication satellite, Türksat 5B

Landing site — After the launch of Türksat 5A, the first stage of the Falcon 9 is landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — Nope, just the satellite.

The Background — This is another satellite for the Turkish communications fleet.

Quarter 3 SpaceX launches:

July 2021

SpaceX Mission: NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)

DART will collide with a moonlet to change it's courseNASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

Date — July 2021

Launch site — Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Payload — DART kinetic impact device

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — This is a test flight of planetary defense technology DART, which utilizes a "kinetic impactor" technique which could eventually be used to divert asteroids or meteors on a collision course with Earth. Basically, NASA is trying to figure out if they can ram a spacecraft into an approaching asteroid to alter its course. They will be testing the technique on an adorable moonlet orbiting the asteroid Didymos.

SpaceX Mission : Cargo Dragon CRS-23

Date — Summer 2021

Launch site — According to Space News, SpaceX plans to use LC-39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for all future CRS missions to take advantage of the facility's crew access arm for loading cargo while the vessel is in a vertical position

Payload — NASA cargo and supplies

Landing site — After the launch of the CRS-21 mission, stage one of the Falcon 9 rocket landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — No

The Background — Details about CRS-23 are scant, but this will be the 23rd supply run to the ISS under the company's contract with NASA.

SpaceX Mission: GPS III SV-05

Date — Quarter 3, 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral / Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — The fifth in a series of ten new Lockheed Martin built GPS satellites

Landing site — After the launch of the GPS III SV-04 mission, stage one of the Falcon 9 rocket landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — No

The Background — According to Colorado Space Coalition, these new, "next generation" GPS satellites have three times the accuracy and eight times the anti-jamming capabilities of the old-school fleet. They are also expected to remain functional for 25 percent longer. While these are Space Force satellites, according to Lockheed Martin, they will feature an "L1C civil signal" compatible with other country's navigation satellite systems, which will improve access for civilian GPS users.

SpaceX Mission: GPS III SV-06

Date — Quarter 3, 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral / Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — The sixth in a series of ten new Lockheed Martin built GPS satellites

Landing site — After the launch of the GPS III SV-04 mission, stage one of the Falcon 9 rocket landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — No

The Background — Another fancy new GPS satellite for Space Force

Quarter 4 SpaceX launches:

October 2021

SpaceX Mission : NASA Imaging x-ray polarimetry explorer (IXPE)

IXPE will explore the universe via X-ray from the safety of Earth's orbitNASA

Date — October 21, 2021

Launch site — Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — NASA IXPE satellite

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — The IXPE will be launched into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It will then complete a two year nominal mission observing X-ray emissions from astronomical phenomenon such as: pulsars and pulsar wind nebulae, active galactic nuclei, accreting X-ray binaries, microquasars, and supernova remnants.

SpaceX Mission : Crew Dragon Crew-3

SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts. Left to right, Raja Chari (NASA), Matthias Maurer (ESA) , and Tom Marshburn (NASA)NASA

Date — Fall 2021

Launch site — Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — Another load of astronauts and gear for the ISS

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used to launch Crew-1 landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — Yep

The Background — This will be the third SpaceX non-test Crew Dragon crewed mission to dock at the ISS, as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. And in addition to ferrying astronauts, these flights would seem to be paving the way for the launch of celebrities into space. Inverse previously reported that a Crew Dragon private flight is expected to transport Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman to the ISS to shoot a film.

Crew-3 will be launched with a Falcon 9 rocket and carry astronauts Raja Chari, Matthias Maurer, Tom Marshburn, and a fourth person to be named later. The Crew-3 astronauts will remain onboard the ISS for 6 months, replacing the Crew-2 astronauts after a short overlap.

SpaceX Mission: Cargo Dragon CRS-24

Date — Fall 2021

Launch site — According to Space News, SpaceX plans to use LC-39A launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for all future CRS missions to take advantage of the facility's crew access arm for loading cargo while the vessel is in a vertical position

Payload — NASA cargo and supplies

Landing site — After the launch of the CRS-21 mission, stage one of the Falcon 9 rocket landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — No

The Background — Details about CRS-24 are scant, but this will be the 24th supply run to the ISS under the company's contract with NASA.

SpaceX Mission: Ax-1

Date — Quarter 4, 2021

Launch site — LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — People

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — Yes

The Background — According to MIT Technology Review, Ax-1 represents the first private mission to the ISS. The mission will be chartered by Axiom Space utilizing SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket, and will transport citizens to ISS for eight days. Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, and Eytan Stibbeand, a former Israeli fighter pilot, have already been selected for the mission. Tech Review also reports that Axiom was involved with NASA talks about filming a movie aboard the ISS, lending credence to rumors that this may be the mission that finally launches Tom Cruise into orbit.

More broadly, Ax-1 represents a big move towards the commercialization of the ISS and low Earth orbit more generally. In fact, Axiom also plans to attach a private "habitat module" to the ISS, which will be the first component of a larger private space station. When the ISS is retired in roughly a decade, the Axiom space station would detach and orbit autonomously.

Sometime in 2021...

SpaceX Mission: O3b mPower-1

Date — 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral, Florida

Payload — The first of four O3b mPower private communications satellites

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — The European communications company, SES, has contracted with SpaceX to launch four O3b mPower satellites as part of the company's high speed data service.

SpaceX Mission: O3b mPower-2

Date — 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral, Florida

Payload — The second of four O3b mPower private communications satellites

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — SES also has an agreement with Microsoft to "provide dedicated, private network connectivity from any vessel, airplane, enterprise, energy or government site in the world to Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute," according to Satellite Today.

SpaceX Mission: WorldView Legion-1

Date — 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral, Florida

Payload — The first of Maxar's new WorldView Legion imaging satellite fleet

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — WorldView Legion represents MAXAR's next generation Earth imaging satellites, which the company boasts will provide 3 times the coverage of their current surveillance array and allow for images to be captured 15 times per day. They also say that the satellites' improved mapping capability will facilitate the continued development of autonomous vehicles.

"The next era in Earth intelligence begins at launch," according to the WorldView Legion promotional video.

SpaceX Mission: WorldView Legion-2

Date — 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral, Florida

Payload — The second of Maxar's new WorldView Legion imaging satellite fleet

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — See above

SpaceX Mission: USSF-52

Date — 2021

Launch site — Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — Classified

Landing site — According to Next Spaceflight, USSF-44 will be the first SpaceX landing to utilize both the Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read the Instructions droneships. Perhaps USSF-52 will as well.

Crewed — No

The Background — Another classified payload for Space Force being blasted into orbit on the Falcon Heavy

SpaceX Mission: Space Adventures LEO Tourism Flight

Date — 2021

Launch site — LC-39A Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — Space tourists!

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used to launch Crew-1 landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — Yes

The Background — This autonomously piloted Space Adventures mission will launch private citizens into Earth's orbit for a five day cruise aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon vessel. The mission is slated to break records as the highest altitude space flight made by civilian passengers. Crew Dragon is slated to orbit at more than 1,000 kilometers.

“Creating unique and previously impossible opportunities for private citizens to experience space is why Space Adventures exists," Space Adventures chairman, Eric Anderson, said in a statement. "This Dragon mission will be a special experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity, capable of reaching twice the altitude of any prior civilian astronaut mission or space station visitor.”

SpaceX Mission: SXM-8

Date — 2021

Launch site — SXM-7 launched from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

Payload — A new SiriusXM radio satellite

Landing site — The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket used to launch SXM-7 landed on the Just Read The Instructions droneship in the Atlantic Ocean. It could very well be the same for this mission, but this is not confirmed.

Crewed — No

The Background — On the heels of the successful 2020 launch of Sirius radio's SXM-7 satellite, SXM-8 will be launched to replace the current XM-4 satellite at 115 degrees west. Both SXM-7 and SXM-8 are high power broadcasting satellites that generate in excess of 20 kilowatts of power. They also have unfurlable antenna reflectors that can broadcast without the aid of large ground based satellites dishes.

SpaceX Mission: NROL-85

Official patch for the NROL-108 mission, launched in December 2020National Reconnaissance Office

Date — 2021

Launch site — Cape Canaveral, Florida

Payload — Classified

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — This is the launch of a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which is in charge of "designing, building, launching, and maintaining America’s intelligence satellites," according to the NRO website. SpaceX is under contract to launch several payloads for the NRO including 2020's NROL-108 and this year's NROL-85 and NROL-87.

In describing the rationale behind the NROL-108 mission patch design (featured above), the NROL-108 press kit says that, "like the gorilla, this mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO’s commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, and allies."

SpaceX Mission: NROL-87

Date — 2021

Launch site — Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Payload — Classified

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — See above

SpaceX Mission: ViaSat-3

Date — 2021

Launch site — Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Payload — The first of three ViaSat-3 communications satellites, launched on a Falcon Heavy Rocket

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — ViaSat-3, a new addition to communication company ViaSat's array, will provide access to high speed internet for billions of people currently without coverage, according to the ViaSat website. It will also be accessible from aircraft and ships.

"The innovations in the ViaSat-3 system do what until now has been impossible in the telecommunications industry – combining enormous network capacity with global coverage, and dynamic flexibility to allocate resources according to geographic demand," ViaSat CEO Mark Dankenberg said in a statement.

SpaceX Mission: SmallSat Rideshare 1

Date — 2021

Launch site — Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Payload — Depends on who wants a ride

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — The SpaceX SmallSat Rideshare program was first announced in August 2019, and represents an Uber-like rideshare opportunity for government and private organizations to launch their assets into space. The service, in which multiple payloads are launched at once, can been booked online for a starting price of one million dollars. Rideshare launches are planned to occur every four months, according to the SpaceX website.

SpaceX Mission: Nova-C

Illustration of Nova-C lunar lander on the MoonIntuitive Machines

Date — 2021

Launch site — TBD

Payload — Intuitive Machines Nova-C Lunar Lander headed for the Moon

Landing site — TBD

Crewed — No

The Background — This mission is part of NASA's mobilization to establish a base on the Moon. SpaceX is also one of the companies contracted to eventually transport passengers to the lunar base, but in this case, they are only providing the propulsion for the Falcon 9 rocket that will blast the Intuitive Machines Nova-C Lunar Lander toward the Moon. Nova-C will drop off supplies that will be used later to establish the space station. NASA considers the lunar space station a stepping stone to humans landing on Mars.

Unless otherwise noted, all the information in this calendar comes from spaceflightnow.com, spacelaunchschedule.com, reddit, nextspaceflight.com, rocketlaunch.live, NASA, and previous Inverse reporting.

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