Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.

The new rocket will be capable of lifting 63,800 kg (140,655 lb) to low Earth orbit. However, the payload for the inaugural flight will be much lighter: a red Tesla Roadster that will be launched toward Mars.

In an effort to lower expectations, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the booster might be lucky to clear the launch pad.

Two boosters that failed in their maiden launches last year will get second chances in January. Japan’s SS-520 microsat launcher will attempt to launch the TRICOM-1R CubeSat.

Rocket Lab’s Electron booster, which reached space but not orbit last May, will launch CubeSats from Spire and Planet later this month.

Virgin Orbit expects to conduct the first flight test of its LauncherOne small-satellite booster this year. The rocket will be air-launched from a modified Boeing 747.

The 32nd and final launch of Russia’s Rockot (Rokot) booster is scheduled for April. The rocket is scheduled to orbit a European Sentinel 3B environmental satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

Rockot, which is a converted SS-19 ballistic missile, has a record of 28 successes, two failures and one partial failure since 1990.

Boeing and SpaceX are scheduled to launch flight tests of the Starliner and Dragon 2 commercial crew vehicles to the International Space Station this year. Read more about that here.

The world’s space agency will also be launching a series of spacecraft to the moon, Mars, Mercury and other locations. There is a rundown of those missions here.