The Week Ahead: Virgin Orbit, ABL Space, SpaceX and Chinese Launches Scheduled

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

While the first week of 2023 saw only one launch worldwide, things will get a lot busier in week 2. Virgin Orbit is set to conduct its first launch from the UK, ABL Space hopes to launch its first rocket ever, and SpaceX and China have three launches apiece on their manifests.

Updated at 1/8/23 at 3:23 p.m. PST: SpaceX OneWeb launch postponed 24 hours to Jan. 9 at 11:50 pm EST. Awaiting word on whether this will impact the rest of SpaceX’s manifest this week.

Orbital Launches
Jan. 8-14

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurposeLaunch Site
Jan. 8Long March 7A – CASC+Shijian-23 – CAST*Tech demoWenchang
Jan. 9
11:50 pm ET
Falcon 9 – SpaceX40 OneWeb – OneWebBroadbandCape Canaveral
Jan. 9Ceres-1 – Galactic EnergyTBATBAYellow Sea
Jan. 9-13
5 pm ET
RS1 – ABL SpaceVariSat-1A, 1B – VariSatTech demoPSC-Alaska
Jan. 9
5:16 pm ET
LauncherOne – Virgin OrbitMultipleMultipleCornwall
Jan. 9
11:15 pm ET
Falcon 9 – SpaceX51 Starlink – SpaceXBroadbandVandenberg
Jan. 12
5:45 pm ET
Falcon Heavy – SpaceXCBAS-2, LDPE-3A – U.S. Space ForceCommunications, tech demoKennedy
Jan. 14Long March 3B/E – CASC+ChinaSat-26 – China SatcomCommunicationsXichang
*China Academy of Space Technology
+China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

Virgin Orbit’s will conduct its “Start Me Up” launch from Spaceport Cornwall in England. The company’s Cosmic Girl 747 jetliner will take off from Newquay Cornwall Airport and drop the LauncherOne rocket off the southern coast of Ireland.

It will be the first orbital launch to originate from the United Kingdom. The rocket is carrying nine satellites from the United Kingdom, United States, Oman and Poland. The AMAN Earth observation satellite will be Oman’s first satellite.

Virgin Orbit
Start Me Up Launch Payloads

PayloadCompany/AgencyPurposeNation
AMANETCOEarth observationOman
CIRCE A, BDSTL*/NRL#Ionospheric researchUK/USA
DOVERRHEA GroupTech demoUK
ForgeStar-0Space ForgeTech demoUK
IOD-3 AmberSatellite Applications CatapultMaritime domain awarenessUK
Prometheus 2A, 2BUK Ministry of Defence/NRO+Tech demoUK/USA
STORK-6SatRevolutionEarth observationPoland
* Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
# U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
+ National Reconnaissance Office

All previous Virgin Orbit flights have originated from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. LauncherOne has a record of four successes and one failure.

ABL Space is hoping to get its RS1 launcher off the ground for the first time this week from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska after multiple unsuccessful attempts last year. The launch window runs from Jan. 9-13. The rocket is carrying a pair of VariSat technology demonstration satellites designed to provide high frequency marine data communications.

RS1 rocket at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska. (Credit: ABL Space Systems)

RS1 is a two-stage rocket designed to place payloads weighing 1,350 kg (2,976 lb) into low Earth orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 is set to launch 40 OneWeb broadband satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Monday. It is the second of three Falcon 9 launches booked by OneWeb.

Another Falcon 9 will launch 51 Starlink broadband satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. It will be SpaceX’s first Starlink launch of the year. The company has launched 3,666 Starlink satellites on 70 flights since February 2018.

Elon Musk’s company will shift its attention back to Florida for a Falcon Heavy launch on Thursday. The giant rocket will carry a pair of satellites into orbit for the U.S. Space Force.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has a pair of launches scheduled that will carry communications and technology demonstration satellites.

Galactic Energy has a launch of its Ceres-1 rocket scheduled. The payload for the flight is unknown.

Last Week’s Launch

SpaceX launches its sixth Transporter mission with 114 payloads aboard on Jan. 3.

Transporter 6 — Top Payloads

Company/AgencyPayloadsPurposeNumber
Planet LabsSuperDoveEarth observation36
Swarm Technologies (SpaceX owned)SpaceBEECommunications12
SkykraftSkykraftAir traffic management6*
Spire GlobalLemur-2Meteorology, ship & aircraft tracking6
DARPA+BlackjackReconnaissance4
AstrocastAstrocastInternet of Things4
SenEarthTVEarth observation – UHD streaming4
Kleos SpaceKSF3Navigation4
ICEYEICEYEEarth observation3
Albania government/SatellogicAlbania-1, -2Earth observation2
D-OrbitION SCV-007, -008CubeSat deployer2
Lynk GlobalLynk Tower 3, 4Communications2
Royal NLR++/TNO^/FFI**MilSpace-2 1, -2 2Tech demo2
SatellogicĂ‘uSat 34, 35Earth observation2
Umbra LabUmbra-05, -06Earth observation2
Total90
+Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
*5 satellites and Skykraft satellite deployer
++Royal Netherlands Space Centre
^Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research
**Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

SpaceX has launched 550 payloads on six Transporter missions since January 2021. All flights have been to sun-synchronous orbits.