New rockets, more spacecraft to fly from Space Coast in 2023

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It’s scheduled to be a busy year with rocket launches from the Space Coast at a pace that could introduce some new names and set new records.

The launch pads at both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station achieved launch speeds of more than once a week, ending 2022 with 57 rockets going into space.

That pace could nearly double as more launch service providers open stores in Brevard County, said Frank DiBello, President and CEO of Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency.

“How long can we sustain? Not only we, but the Space Force and NASA are also building and investing,” he said. “And commercial contractors are investing in infrastructure that should be able to support 100 launches a year. That was our plan. I think we want to be able to do more than two launches a week.”

Much of this will come from SpaceX, which continues to launch Falcon 9 rockets like dominoes, but 2023 should also treat Space Coast to the various aspects of Falcon Heavy’s powerhouse.

While NASA’s Space Launch System rocket makes headlines in November by launching Orion to the moon for the Artemis I mission, it won’t be launched again until at least 2024, so the next best thing for pure power from a Space Shore launch is Falcon Heavy. Coming with permission. It has flown only four times to date.

However, one of the joys of watching it go up is going beyond the 5.1 million pound thrust. Spectators receive the added bonus of sonic booms from two of the three first-stage boosters that return to return to land.

The chance to watch rocket flight could come as early as January with the USSF-67 mission scheduled for the Space Force. SpaceX is also expected to launch a second Space Force mission and a commercial satellite with a heavy-lift rocket in the first half of the year.

Highlights for the smaller Falcon 9 rockets will be as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, with KSC’s four planned launches sending humans into space in Crew Dragon capsules in both Crew-6 in mid-February and Crew-7 in the fall. to the International Space Station.

Also flying aboard Dragons will be the all-civilian Polaris Dawn flight that returns billionaire Jared Issacman to space after flying on the Inspiration4 mission in 2021. Polaris Dawn is the first of three planned missions for Issacman, once again bringing three passengers with him. The orbital mission, which will once again seek to raise money for Jude Children’s Research Hospital, will have a spacewalk bound by at least one of the crew. This launch could arrive in early March.

Another special launch is on the books in early May, as Axiom Space is hitchhiking for customers aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon once again for a planned 10-day stay on the ISS. Axiom-2 follows the successful Axiom-1 mission to the station in 2022, with three customers paying $55 million each, as well as an Axiom employee and former NASA astronaut.

For 2023, Axiom-2 will feature former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, also employed by Axiom Space. The missions lay the groundwork for Axiom Space to send its own modules to dock with the ISS, eventually becoming its own standalone commercial space station.

But SpaceX isn’t the only spacecraft that plans to send humans to the ISS from Florida next year. Boeing’s long-delayed CST-100 Starliner is poised to finally complete its crewed test flight to the ISS, sending NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams for a quick trip on the books for April. The uncrewed version of the Starliner successfully docked to the ISS in May, more than 2 1/2 years after an unsuccessful first uncrewed mission.

The Starliner will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Canaveral’s Launch Complex 41. Since Apollo 7 took off from Cape Kennedy’s Launch Complex 34 in 1968, it has not flown into space from Canaveral, as it has with every successive Apollo flight. Those in the Space Shuttle Program and SpaceX Crew Dragon flights took off from KSC.

If all goes well Boeing will have caught up with SpaceX, which has been providing taxi services to the ISS since 2020, and NASA will swap crew flights between the two each year.

Meanwhile, ULA is expected to finally launch its new Vulcan Centaur rocket in early 2023. This is the first of two pre-launch certification flights ULA plans for the Department of Defense in 2023. Already delayed from 2021, ULA was waiting for the engines for the new rocket from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. It uses two of the new BE-4 engines, which were finally delivered in November and fitted to the first Vulcan rocket.

The first Vulcan flyby aims to send commercial company Astrobotic’s Peregine lunar lander to the moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Also waiting for Vulcan is a new supplier of commercial cargo to the ISS, Sierra Space and the Dream Chaser spacecraft, which looks like a mini space shuttle. Dream Chaser will join SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft as options for NASA, and will be the first cargo option to allow a return journey to Kennedy Space Center. Sierra Space continues its first mission on track for 2023.

One new rocket that probably won’t make its maiden flight next year is Blue Origin’s own New Glenn, which also uses BE-4 engines but needs seven of them. And with the ULA and five Vulcan launches planned for 2023, there is talk of the top 10 engines.

However, both ULA and Blue Origin will need an accelerated engine supply, as both are customers of Amazon’s Project Kuiper internet satellite plan, which has as many as 83 launches planned by 2029 to send the majority of 3,236 satellites into orbit. this will create a product similar to SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.

DiBello said he expects ULA to approach SpaceX soon in terms of launch regularity.

“I think you’ll see the same talent displayed by the ULA once the Vulcan starts flying,” he said. “ULA has an incredible track record that reaches today’s capability. I think you can see the same discipline emerging at launch when they start working with Vulcan.”

While ULA and SpaceX will fill most of the Space Coast launch program, another new rocket company expects to join the launch ranks soon.

Relativity Space and its 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket sit aboard Canaveral’s Launch Complex 16, tuned for static ignition of its engines, and await Federal Aviation Administration approval for its first launch.

The Long Beach, California-based company would become the second small rocket company to launch from Canaveral in a year, after two launches by Astra Space in 2022. they probably won’t be returning to Space Coast with the Rocket 4 design planned until 2024.

But it looks like Relativity will follow up with what it calls the “GLHF” mission, as well as “Good Luck, Have Fun”, with more Terran 1 launches from Canaveral in 2023 for NASA. The company plans to bring the larger Terran R rocket to the runway in the future.

Relativity and Astra are just two of the few companies that could launch from Canaveral soon if not in 2023. Firefly Aerospace, which made its first successful orbital flight in California in October, has a launch lease from Space Launch Complex 20. Aiming for its first successful launch from Alaska in early 2023, ABL Space Systems previously flew from one of Canaveral’s launch pads to receive a pair of prototype satellites for Amazon’s Kuiper Project.

By 2024, Space Coast could be juggling programs from SpaceX, ULA, Relativity, Astra, Firefly, ABL, and NASA.

“Once that could have been challenging,” DiBello said. “But both the Space Force and NASA and the FAA have made great strides in streamlining range and launch operations so we can lift capacity.”

Space Launch Delta 45 and Eastern Range were recently drafted to support two SpaceX launches with overlapping windows, so it’s likely they’ll see the two rockets take off within 33 minutes of each other.

“Technology is advancing for airspace management such that it’s perfectly possible to see an average of two launches per week,” DiBello said. “We think the market demand is there – we clearly expect to see between 50,000 and 100,000 launches over the rest of this decade. And we expect the predominant percentage of these to launch from the US and Florida.”

2022 Orlando Sentinel.

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