SpaceX is set for perhaps its biggest year ever.
Hot on the heels of 2021, where it’s thus-far launched 25 missions, the space-faring firm is gearing up to massively increase its throughput. Inverse estimates, based on sources including NextSpaceflight and SpaceflightNow, that SpaceX plans at least 36 launches next year. That’s not even including Starlink, the frequently-launched satellites constellation for its growing internet service.
It could be SpaceX’s biggest year so far. The record currently goes to 2020, when the company launched 26 missions. Seeing that the world successfully launched 104 rockets to orbit last year, that means SpaceX accounted for 25 percent of global orbital flights in 2020.
CEO Elon Musk stated on Twitter in October 2020 that his goal for 2021 was 48 missions — something it looks like he could actually achieve in 2022.
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Beyond these missions, SpaceX is expected to host a series of Starlink launches on a regular basis from both Florida and California. Musk explained earlier this month that, by mid-2022, the next phase of Starlink launches should enable better maritime communications.
Here’s what to know:
First quarter: IM-1 — SpaceX will launch the Intuitive Machines lander to the Moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. It will carry five payloads. SpaceX is also expected to send the DOGE-1 cryptocurrency-financed satellite, weighing 88 pounds, as a rideshare.
January: Transporter-3 — This will be SpaceX’s third SmallSat rideshare mission, where the company launches smaller satellites for clients for just $1 million. It will take off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Early 2022: Falcon Heavy USSF-44 — This is a classified mission for the United States Space Force. It will send up two satellites, one of which is dubbed TETRA-1, to geosynchronous orbit. It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
February 2: NROL-87 — This classified mission will take off from Space Launch Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
February 21: Crew Dragon Axiom-1 — This will launch four crew members to the International Space Station using the Crew Dragon capsule: Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Etyan Stibbe. It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
No earlier than March: WorldView Legion Earth 1 and 2 — This will send up two observation satellites on two Falcon 9 rockets. This mission will take off from Space Launch Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Early: SES O3b mPower — This will launch three medium-Earth-orbit broadband satellites, with three more in 2022 completing the launch plans.
March: Transporter-4 — SpaceX is scheduled to launch its fourth smallsat rideshare mission around this time to a Sun-synchronous orbit. It will include PlanetIQ’s GNOMES-3 satellite.
Second quarter: Falcon Heavy USSF-52 — This United States Space Force mission will launch an unknown payload. It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Second quarter: Falcon Heavy Viasat-3 — This will launch a satellite close to geostationary orbit. It will provide up to one terabit per second of network capacity, and forms part of a three-satellite planned upgrade.
The power of Falcon Heavy means the company can send the satellite very close to its final position. This means the satellite won’t take weeks moving to its final position, so Viasat can start using it much faster.
It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
April: Nilesat-301 — This mission, announced in January 2020, will launch the Nilesat-301 geostationary communications satellite with a Falcon 9 rocket.
Amr Emam, head of the space sector at Nilesat, claimed at a United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs conference in July 2021 that it would launch in April 2022.
April 15: Crew Dragon Crew-4 — This will launch four astronauts to the International Space Station: NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, and a fourth crew member. It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
May: CRS-25 — SpaceX plans to launch the 25th Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA. This will send supplies to the International Space Station, including parts to complete the ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays. It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Teslarati explains that these six solar arrays, launched over three resupply missions, weigh around 1,550 pounds each and generate up to 20 kilowatts. It’s expected to be one of the heaviest unpressurized payloads to ever launch on one of SpaceX’s capsules.
A September 2021 webpage from NASA’s Glenn Research Center indicates that CRS-25 will launch in May 2022.
June: Transporter — SpaceX’s website lists a SmallSat Rideshare mission in June to a Sun-synchronous orbit.
Mid: SES O3b mPower — This will launch three more medium-Earth-orbit broadband satellites to complete the set. This launch is notable as SpaceX will not try to save the Falcon 9 rocket after, which means SpaceX can spend more fuel on sending the satellite closer to its final position.
Mid-to-late: Falcon Heavy USSF-67 — This is a classified mission to geostationary Earth orbit. The center core of the three-core rocket will be expended. It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Second half: Amazonas Nexus — This satellite, from Spanish operator Hispasat, will provide communications in geostationary orbit.
Second half: NROL-85 — This mission is expected to use a Falcon 9 rocket.
Third quarter: Galaxy 31 and 32 — This will launch two satellites as part of a $390 million seven-satellite contract with Intelsat, split between SpaceX and Arianespace.
Third quarter: Galaxy 33 and 34 — This is the second launch as part of a contract with Intelsat.
August: Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter — This is South Korea’s first lunar mission. It will carry a series of South Korean — and one American — experiments on a one-year orbit around the Moon. It will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
August: Falcon Heavy Psyche — This orbiter is destined for a 140-mile wide asteroid. Scientists speculate that the asteroid, located in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, could be the remnants of an old planet due to its iron and nickel composition.
September: CRS-26 — This will complete the three-launch solar arrays upgrade for the International Space Station. It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
September: Tranche 0 — SpaceX secured the $150 million contract for this mission in January 2021. It will launch satellites for the Space Development Agency’s Tranche 0 Transport and Tracking Layer. This is designed to track ballistic missiles.
This will take off from Space Launch Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Fourth quarter: IM-2 — SpaceX will launch the Intuitive Machines lander to the Moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
Fall: Crew Dragon Axiom-2 — Axiom Space plans to launch a crewed mission every six months, which means a second mission should take place around this time.
The mission is expected to go to the ISS. It will launch former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, champion GT racer John Shoffner, and the winner from the upcoming reality TV show Who Wants to be an Astronaut?
Late: Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission — This mission will carry two of Space Norway’s satellites.
October: Crew-5 — This will be SpaceX’s fifth non-test crewed mission for NASA. It will launch NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA’s Koichi Wakata, and a fourth unnamed astronaut to the ISS.
October: Transporter — SpaceX’s website lists a SmallSat Rideshare mission in October to a sun synchronous orbit.
This could be the first SpaceX mission to launch a Russian cosmonaut. Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russian space agency Roscosmos, said in October 2021 that “in our view, SpaceX has already acquired enough experience for us to be able to put our cosmonauts on Crew Dragon.” Negotiations will determine the finer details of any potential deal in this area.
It will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
November: Surface Water and Ocean Topography — This mission, also known as SWOT, is a collaboration between NASA, France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatial, and the United Kingdom Space Agency. It will carry out global surveys of Earth’s surface water.
This mission will take off from Space Launch Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
December: IM-2 — Intuitive Machines’ second mission will land 130 kg (287 pounds) on the Moon’s South Pole. The company has partnered with Spaceflight Inc. for rideshare opportunities.
Unknown: Intelsat 40e — Announced in March 2022, this will launch a communications satellite for Intelsat. The service will be used by governments and corporations in North and Central America.
Unknown: GPS-III SV06 — This global positioning satellite will be used as part of the constellation of 31 satellites.
Unknown: Inmarsat-6B — This will launch the GX6B satellite to support Inmarsat’s developing high-speed broadband network. It will operate in a geostationary orbit.
Unknown: SES-18 and 19 — These two satellites for communications firm SES will launch together on a single rocket from Cape Canaveral.
Unknown: Starship/Super Heavy Orbital Test Flight — SpaceX’s giant Starship and Super Heavy prototype is expected to complete its orbital test flight at some point over the coming year. It will take off from the company’s Starbase facility in Texas.
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