Wednesday, December 14, 2022

SpaceX Finishing the Year With a Flourish?

That's what it's looking like at the moment.  Check out this screen capture from Next Spaceflight that shows potentially five more launches before the end of December, which would bring them to 61 for the year. 

Note that first launch is Thursday morning (Dec. 15) at 1146 UTC (6:46 EST) from Vandenberg, which is before many of you will read this.  It's the next two that are the real outliers. 

Look at the two on the top right, that I've highlighted.  Those are both penciled in for this Friday, the 16th at 2121 UTC (4:21 EST), from SLC-40, and 2154 UTC (4:54 EST) SLC-39A, both on the Kennedy Space Center. 33 minutes apart is not just a record for them, but might well exceed what the range is capable of supporting! 

The guy who posted those times to Next Spaceflight is @Alexphysics13 and he says (in a Twitter reply) that he doubts they'll actually do it.  

I'd be very surprised if they actually did and this is coming from the guy that updated those two entries in NextSpaceflight 😅

At least from what I understand, Starlink would delay 24h if O3b is good to go on the 16th. But if O3b isn't ready they keep the 16th for Starlink.

The first launch, Thursday morning at 6:46 AM EST, 3:46 AM Pacific is the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission mentioned in Monday's post, a roughly $1.2 billion joint mission between NASA and French space agency CNES.  SWOT is one of many missions impacted and delayed by the Covid-19 mess.  The mission's planning and design began in 2012 and it's currently reported as being 9% over budget and eight months behind schedule.  Compared to other programs reporting cost increases of 10-100%, that's good.  The satellite will scan the oceans and lakes of the world with two large synthetic aperture radar (SAR) antennas and a conventional radar altimeter.

The second launch, the O3b launch mentioned by @Alexphysics13, is the first two of eleven Boeing-built O3b mPOWER communication satellites for operator SES.  These appear to be the first of a (relatively small?) constellation of networking satellites for high-end, high-reliability users. 

Finally, the third launch in that graphic is the first batch of Starlink satellites to launch in a while - since October 28th. 

The wildcards in this scenario are the leftmost two on the bottom row: the first is the December 29th launch of the EROS-3C mission, which will carry a pair of Israeli Earth Observation satellites.  The middle mission is the undated launch of another batch of Starlink satellites.  Since it has a penciled-in date, the EROS-3C mission seems more likely, however Eric Ralph at Teslarati notes that in the 17 year history of Falcon operations, SpaceX has never launched a Falcon after December 23rd or before January 6th.  Doesn't seem like it could be a rigid policy, but we'd need an insider to tell us that. 

There's also mention of another mission not shown in this view flying before the end of the year, their next Transporter Ride Sharing mission, which will be Transporter 6. Considering how full their January calendar is, missions might be able to move forward.


  1. 61 launches will still get them an asterisk by the record, because it's the 162-game season.

  2. If it's more than the Range can support, then at least one of them will not launch.
    Or if it does, Mr. Musk and SpaceX should be in a lot of trouble!

  3. I believe the 56th Space wing needs a 6 to 12-hour turnaround, so no go.
    I'm probably wrong, but what the heck - if they do it, it'll be interesting. Ramping up for something, I wonder?

    1. I think I read that Space Force is shooting for 6 hours turnaround time.

      TBH, I went with what that Alexphysics guy on Twitter said, but I don't really get it. When you consider how far apart those pads are distance wise, that seems as close as the situation gets to "dangerous." The second launch is 33 minutes after the first, so not less than 20 minutes after the first booster is recovered. Half an hour apart at orbital velocity is something like a third of the Earth's circumference, I'll swag 8,500 miles. They can't track two objects that are a third of the world apart from each other?

      I plead ignorance.

    2. The issue is that Range is responsible for vehicle destruct if it crosses its limit lines. They have to reconfigure their transmitters for sending that signal. and have to verify it works WITHOUT destroying the rocket whilst it is still on the pad.

    3. And it takes six hours to change the frequency on the transmitters? They have two Falcon 9s and I have to think they're more similar to each other than, say an F9 and an Atlas V or Delta IV. I've worked on a lot of transmitters, from 1940s and '50s technology to today's and it never took more than a few minutes to do that, even if it had to be completely re-tuned.

    4. SiG, they have to test the FTS system thoroughly before launch, which DOES take time. I won't go into specifics, but The Space Wing guys are VERY confident now about the automatic triggering of the FTS by the booster itself that they might loosen testing requirements soon... if not now. Might. We shall see. Automation just keeps getting better all the time.

    5. Oh!! Just checked, the two launches are separated by a continent - the first one is from Vandyland, the second is from the Cape.

      No worries!! (Serves me right for not checking closely!)

    6. Yeah, that happened yesterday. When I put the post up, as you can see from the screen capture, there were to be two this (Friday) afternoon from the Cape and the Vandy SWOT launch was supposed to be yesterday morning.

      SWOT was delayed after a lot of unusual rain in CA and went this morning instead. They spread the two launches at the KSC sometime yesterday - I didn't check the launch calendar until evening so I don't know what time.

  4. Igor tells the truth. BOTH times. Cape is ETR. Vandy is WTR.