Florida’s 2019 rocket launch schedule: Astronauts, moon landers, mighty rockets
The new year is ramping up to be a historic one for the private space industry as it endeavors — along with its partners at NASA — to return humans to space from the United States.
Florida’s Space Coast will be ground zero for those launches and other notable flights in 2019. Though the overall number of liftoffs will likely be lower than in 2018, when the Cape played host to 20 launches, the high-profile nature of 2019’s launch manifest is likely to bring crowds back to the region.
Private space, led by SpaceX and Boeing, will play prominent roles as the purveyors of the first crewed U.S. space flights to low-Earth orbit since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. In between, satellite, lunar lander and International Space Station resupply missions from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance will round out the year.
Mark your calendars, here are the launches coming to the Space Coast in 2019:
If current schedules hold, SpaceX would be the first to return astronauts to low-Earth orbit from American soil in eight years, beginning the process of easing the nation’s dependency on Russia to shuttle American astronauts to the International Space Station.
Before it can do that, though, SpaceX will have to perform a successful test flight of its Crew Dragon capsule without humans. That demo flight is scheduled for Saturday from Kennedy Space Center’s launch complex 39A. SpaceX will then perform an in-flight abort test in June.
If successful, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will then hop inside Crew Dragon for the crewed launch, now on track for July.
SpaceX is also expected to draw big crowds for the return of the Elon Musk-led company’s mighty Falcon Heavy rocket, which had its debut in the Space Coast in early 2018 to a crowd of thousands. The three-booster, 27-engine Falcon Heavy will have its two first official contracted missions from the Space Coast in early- to mid-2019.
SpaceX is currently targeting as early as March for the first Falcon Heavy mission, carrying Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat 6A, a communications satellite providing coverage to the Middle East and North Africa region. A second mission, for the Air Force’s Space Test Program 2, which would launch more than two dozen military satellites, is also expected to come this year.
Also of interest was the company’s Falcon 9 launch of a lunar lander for private Israeli company SpaceIL. The company competed for the Google Lunar X Prize, a moon race that would have awarded $20 million to the first company that built and launched a commercial lunar lander. The competition ended without a winner.
But SpaceIL kept working toward its mission and made good on its promise to send the first privately developed lander to the moon. The mission launched Thursday.
The lander named Beresheet — Hebrew for “in the beginning” — will spend several weeks traveling to the moon before landing and taking images and videos.
Those missions will be the high points in a major year for SpaceX, while it also performs several resupply missions to the International Space Station and satellite launches, continuing to raise its profile as a go-to launch provider.
Boeing will get its shot at making history this year, too, with its two launches of its CST-100 Starliner astronaut capsule as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program.
The company is eyeing April for the test launch of its astronaut capsule — without crew — and May for a pad abort test from launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Then, in August, the company will endeavor to send astronauts Michael Fincke, Christopher J. Ferguson and Nicole Mann in a crewed launch to space. Due to unspecified medical reasons, astronaut Eric Boe, who was originally scheduled to be on the flight, was replaced by Fincke.
Following successful launches from SpaceX and Boeing, NASA will assign the two companies to crew rotation missions to the International Space Station.
For United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, 2019 will be a year dominated largely by launches from the Space Coast.
The company has seven launches planned for the year, one of which already took off from California. A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Jan. 19.
The next six launches will be from the Space Coast.
First in the line up is a Delta IV rocket in a medium configuration carrying a Boeing communications spacecraft for the U.S. military called 10th Wideband Global SATCOM. The launch, scheduled for March 13, will take off from complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Several other military launches are also on the manifest for ULA, including one for the Air Force’s third-generation navigation satellites for the Global Positioning System. The satellite will be the second in a series of 10 ordered by the Air Force.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the GPS satellites have better accuracy, improved anti-jamming capabilities and 25 percent longer spacecraft lifespan. The first in that series was launched by SpaceX in December 2018.
ULA is also providing the thrust in the form of Atlas V rockets for Boeing’s two launches through the Commercial Crew program, one uncrewed in April and one with astronauts aboard in August.
Meanwhile, ULA will be preparing for a busy 2020 by ramping up its manufacturing pace at its Decatur, Ala., factory with 30 boosters in production during 2019 and 2020. The company is working on its upcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket for a scheduled first launch in 2021.
It’ll also be making preparations for the 2020 launch of a new Mars rover. An Atlas V rocket will carry the rover to space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in July or August or 2020, making it a highlight in what already looks like a busy 2020 rocket launch schedule.