Having just written a recap of SpaceX activities in 2019, it seemed natural to follow with a preview of 2020. In no particular order, we can expect:
- January 11, 2020: The in-flight abort test that supports the Commercial Crew program. This test was delayed out of 2019 by the need to recover from the loss of a Dragon 2 capsule in a ground test.
- Multiple “fourth” flights of Falcon 9 first stages, starting with a Starlink launch on Jan. 7th, and the in-flight abort test Jan. 11th.
- March 2020: CRS-20 will be the final flight to the ISS under the first CRS contract, a significant milestone.
- August 2020: CRS2 first cargo flight with a Dragon 2 to the ISS, the 21st overall SpaceX cargo run to the ISS. A second CRS2 flight is expected later in 2020.
- Sometime in Q2-Q3 2020 the first crewed Dragon 2 flight to the ISS. All eyes will be on this one.
- A whole big lot of Starlink launches, perhaps more than 12. Expect a lot of controversy as SpaceX’s competitors feel the heat and as astronomers work with SpaceX to adjust to the new age of the mega-constellation.
- Two GPS launches for the Air Force.
- A Falcon Heavy launch of a large Air Force satellite, AFSPC-44, to GEO.
- The SpaceX rideshare program offering monthly launches starting at $1M should start in March 2020. This program is expected to have an enormous impact on lowering the cost and increasing the frequency by which payloads reach space. SpaceX will make use of up to three dedicated flights out of Vandenberg per year plus excess capacity on the numerous Starlink launches.
- An overall total of 30 or more launches. Even if SpaceX falls short, there is a very good chance 2020 will be a record launch year for SpaceX.
- Assuming continued success, the Falcon 9 will surpass the Atlas V record for consecutive successful launches in 2020. With the coming transition by ULA from the Atlas V to Vulcan, SpaceX will with high probability have the “quality lead” over all other launch providers in the near future.
- With the high launch rate, we can expect SpaceX will push to reduce turnaround time in all aspects of the launch cycle. This higher launch rate will put pressure on the Florida ranges to keep up. One way SpaceX will achieve this higher launch rate is with more reuse, so we may see a 5th or even a 6th flight of the same Falcon 9 first stage.
- Initial operating capability for Starlink in the second half of the year.
- And last but not least, the first flights of Starship. This is the high-risk part of what SpaceX is doing in 2020, so I would not be surprised to see a few explosions over Boca Chica. However, by end of year 2020, we can anticipate significant Starship/Superheavy progress.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the list above is that virtually everything listed will be on Shotwell Time, not Elon Time. So, buckle up—2020 will be an amazing year for SpaceX.
Image at top, from left: Starship prototype, Starlink satellites in orbit about to be deployed, Dragon 2 on the launch pad, and Astronaut Sunita Williams testing a Dragon 2 simulator while wearing a SpaceX spacesuit.