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December looks to build on Space Coast’s rapid rocket launch cadence

SpaceX, ULA dominate schedule

A SpaceX Falcon9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule attached, lift's off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A Sunday Nov. 15, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Four astronauts are beginning a mission to the international Space Station. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
A SpaceX Falcon9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule attached, lift's off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A Sunday Nov. 15, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Four astronauts are beginning a mission to the international Space Station. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Despite 2020′s breakneck rocket launch cadence, the Space Coast likely has just enough missions left up its sleeve to push the year even further into record-breaking territory, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.

The exact standing won’t be known until December’s last mission, but with 27 to date, Florida appears to be on track to host the most launches since at least the 1990s, when more than 20 annually was common. This year’s cadence has been hosted entirely by SpaceX Falcon 9 and United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets.

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Looking ahead, SpaceX is next on the Eastern Range’s schedule: Falcon 9 on Dec. 5 will fly the company’s 21st International Space Station resupply from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The 11:39 a.m. liftoff will mark the first time SpaceX flies its updated Cargo Dragon spacecraft for NASA.

Based on the Dragon 2 platform, Cargo Dragon is nearly identical to the recently flown Crew Dragon capsule, which took astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi to the ISS on Nov. 15. Because it’s only focused on cargo, it lacks the seats and windows astronauts would use, as well as the launch escape system designed to hurl them away from the rocket in the event of an emergency.

After liftoff, the rocket’s first stage will return to the Cape’s Landing Zone 1 and generate three sonic booms just before touchdown.

Three-and-a-half miles away from pad 39A, meanwhile, SpaceX teams at Launch Complex 40 are targeting sometime in December – likely the first half – for the company’s next national security mission. Known as NROL-108, a Falcon 9 will boost a secretive intelligence-gathering satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. SpaceX will likely announce a target date after the ISS cargo launch.

Less certain are two other missions that were originally targeting the fourth quarter: the flight of Turkey’s first domestically built communications satellite, labeled Turksat 5A, on a Falcon 9; and NROL-44, another NRO satellite that wasn’t able to fly because its United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket scrubbed several times in August and September.

SpaceX has also not confirmed if December will host any Starlink constellation launches, which make up more than half of the Space Coast’s 2020 cadence. To date, the company has boosted just under 1,000 of the internet-beaming spacecraft to orbit and $99-a-month public testing is underway.

Launch on Saturday, Dec. 5

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Mission: 21st International Space Station resupply
  • Launch Time: 11:39 a.m.
  • Launch Window: Instantaneous; must launch on time
  • Launch Pad: 39A at Kennedy Space Center