SpaceX on a Rapid Launch Cadence for 2017

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft on board, (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SpaceX’s successful launch of the Intelsat 35e communications satellite on Wednesday was the company’s third launch in 12 days and its 10th successful launch of 2017, the most the company has ever launched during any calendar year.

Just past the mid-point of the year, SpaceX has launched more times than any other company or nation in 2017. The company’s flights account for just under short of one-quarter of the 44 launch attempts this year.

As many as 10 more flights are on the manifest for the rest of the year, which would bring the company’s total to 20. In 2016, the United States and China were tied for the lead in launches with 22 apiece.

The table below shows SpaceX’s completed and planned launches for 2017, based on the current schedule posted at Spaceflight Now and recent public comments by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell.

SPACE 2017 LAUNCHES
DATELAUNCH VEHICLE
PAYLOAD
LAUNCH SITERESULT
 01/14/16 Falcon 9 Iridium 1-10 VandenbergSuccess
 02/19/17 Falcon 9 CRS 10 KSCSuccess
 03/16//17 Falcon 9EchoStar 23 KSCSuccess
03/30/17 Falcon 9SES 10 KSCSuccess
 05/01/17 Falcon 9NROL-76KSCSuccess
05/15/17  Falcon 9 Inmarsat 5 F4KSCSuccess
  06/03/17 Falcon 9 CRS-11 KSCSuccess
 06/23/17 Falcon 9
BulgariaSat 1
 KSCSuccess
06/25/17  Falcon 9Iridium Next 11-20 VandenbergSuccess
 07/05/17  Falcon 9Intelsat 35e KSCSuccess
 08/10/17 Falcon 9 CRS-12 CCAFS
08/24/17  Falcon 9Formosat 5 Vandenberg
  08/28/17 Falcon 9 OTV-5 (X-37B) KSC
TBDFalcon 9Iridium Next 21-30 Vandenberg
 TBDFalcon 9SES 11/EchoStar 105CCAFS
TBDFalcon 9Koreasat 5AKSC
OctoberFalcon 9Iridum Next 31-40Vandenberg
TBDFalcon HeavyDemo FlightKSC
11/01/17Falcon 9CRS-13CCAFS
DecemberFalcon 9Iridium Next 41-50Vandenberg

The above schedule is, of course, subject to change. Missions could be delayed or even added in the months months ahead.

And you’re only as good as your last launch; your next one could fail catastrophically. SpaceX’s ambitious launch schedules for 2015 and 2016 were brought to screeching halts after Falcon 9s exploded with the loss of their payloads.

SpaceX has some downtime in its schedule as the Eastern Range is closed for maintenance over the next month. The company’s next launch is not scheduled until Aug. 10.

Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch is the most anticipated SpaceX launch of the year. The booster will use three Falcon 9 cores with 27 engines as its first stage. Falcon Heavy will be the world’s most powerful booster once it launches,

Spaceflight Now has two Falcon Heavy launches on its schedule for this year. The second mission would launch an U.S. Air Force mission into orbit. However, recent comments by Shotwell indicate the company is likely aiming for a single Falcon Heavy flight in 2017.

A key issue with the new booster is launch pad availability. SpaceX’s main launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, known as Space Launch Complex (SLC) 40, was heavily damaged in the explosion of a booster last September. SpaceX has been using Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center while repairs are underway.

SpaceX officials say SLC 40 should be ready for launches later this summer, allowing the company to ship launches there. Pad 39A would then need additional preparations for the first Falcon Heavy mission.

SpaceX officials have talked about launching the first crew Dragon vehicle on a flight test to the International Space Station by the end of the year. However, Spaceflight Now has that mention on the schedule for March 2018.

The company is scheduled to launch two additional Dragon cargo ships to the space station by the end of the year, making four resupply flights for 2017.

SpaceX is also scheduled to launch the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane in August. All previous flights have been made aboard United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V booster.

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