By Dale Skran
NSS Executive Vice President
The last two months of 2017 are shaping up as a very exciting time for space development. On October 30, SpaceX plans to launch Koreasat-5A from SLC-39A in Florida, followed by the unexpected secret Zuma satellite on November 15th, also from SLC-39A. These will, if both successful be the 16th and 17th launches in 2017 by SpaceX, which is on-track to being the world’s largest space launch company in 2017. As one comparison, ULA launched six Atlas Vs and three Deltas, for a total of nine launches for 2017.
However, we are just getting started. On December 12th SpaceX is scheduled to launch CRS-13 to the ISS. This flight is important for at least three reasons. First, NASA has agreed that it will be the first NASA launch to use a “flight proven” F9 first stage. Second, the cargo will include Made in Space’s machine for manufacturing ZBLAN optical fiber in space, a step on the path to profitable space manufacturing. And third, the launch will take place from SLC-40, the first such launch since that pad was destroyed in the Amos 6 incident last year. With SLC-40 back to launching F9s, SLC-39A will be enhanced to support launches of the Falcon Heavy and Crew Dragons.
On December 22, Iridium NEXT Flight 4 will rocket into space from V-4E in Vandenberg using the fourth flight-proven F9 first stage to fly in 2017. Rounding out the SpaceX news, the Falcon Heavy is expected to fly by end of year 2017. If this occurs, it will bring the total of flights of “flight-proven” F9 first stages to six, as the two side boosters of the initial FH flight are both “flight proven.”
In other exciting news, Blue Origin recently announced the first successful firing of the Lox/Methane BE-4 engine targeted for both Vulcan and New Glenn, and in the next month or so Rocket Lab is on course for their second Electron test flight, which has a good chance of making orbit.
The next two months have the potential to be one of the most exciting periods in terms of space development related achievements ever. Ad Astra.