CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The first few months of the new decade will be a busy time for the Space Coast as SpaceX plans to accelerate the pace of its plans to create a space-based internet, launching dozens of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit and conducting a critical test of its astronaut capsule.
First up, SpaceX plans to launch a second round of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan. 3. It’s the first of three Starlink launches the company has planned in the first half of 2020.
Elon Musk’s commercial space company launched the first round of 60 satellites into low-Earth orbit in May. SpaceX plans to eventually have a constellation of thousands of spacecraft that will provide affordable high-speed internet around the world, according to Musk.
SpaceX is set to carry out a launch abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft no earlier than Jan. 18. While this doesn’t include a trip to space, it is an important part of certifying the spacecraft to fly NASA astronauts in the new year.
“The demonstration of Crew Dragon’s launch escape system is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and is one of the final major tests for the company before NASA astronauts will fly aboard the spacecraft,” according to a NASA news release.
NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to independently develop human-rated spacecraft as part of the Commercial Crew Program to launch American astronauts. The U.S. currently pays Russia around $84 million a seat to transport NASA astronauts into space.
During the abort test, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket with Crew Dragon and then trigger a launch abort jettisoning the spacecraft away to safety for a water landing. The Crew Dragon abort system is critical to ensuring the safety of the future astronauts on board should something go wrong during liftoff.
This past spring, SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon on its first test flight --without astronauts on board-- to the International Space Station and successfully docked and returned the capsule to Earth.
If the abort test goes well, SpaceX will launch NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken next year, marking the first time NASA astronauts have launched from U.S. soil since 2011.
In December, Boeing launched its astronaut spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, on an orbital flight test on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The uncrewed spacecraft was meant to dock with the space station and return home but failed to reach the necessary orbit to catch up to the ISS due to a timing error on the spacecraft. Instead, Starliner’s week-long mission was cut short and the spacecraft landed in New Mexico about 48 hours after launch.
Boeing and NASA are conducting an investigation into the problem. A launch date for the next Starliner test flight, this time with astronauts, has not been set.
In February, United Launch Alliance will launch NASA and European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft. The probe will provide new perspectives of the sun, including the first images of the sun’s polar regions, according to ESA.
That launch is currently slated for Feb. 5 from Cape Canaveral.
Other highlights of this year include NASA’s new roving robot set to launch to Mars on a ULA Atlas V rocket in July. The rover follows in the tracks of its predecessor, the Mars Curiosity Rover currently on the Red Planet.
According to the 45th Space Wing, there are 48 launches slated for the Eastern Range in 2020.