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Home / Science / The next major launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 by the US Air Force falls into the year 2020 before the busy fourth quarter

The next major launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 by the US Air Force falls into the year 2020 before the busy fourth quarter



According to a US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) update on August 20, SpaceX's next USF launch – the third completed GPS III spacecraft – has slipped a month and is now earliest (NET ) planned. January 2020.

Known as the GPS III Space Vehicle 03 (SV03), SpaceX's next US military launch will follow just a few months after United Launch Alliance (ULA) plans to launch the GPS III SV02 launching at 9:00 am EDT should August 22nd. SpaceX launched the lengthy launch campaign for GPS III in December 2018, successfully placing the 3900kg communications and geolocation spacecraft in a transfer orbit. The mission was also SpaceX's first purposeful launch for Falcon 9 Block 5, a trend that may or may not continue with the company's next GPS launch.

Known as GPS Block IIIA, SV01-03 are the first three of a total of 10 spacecraft. Produced by Lockheed Martin for an estimated cost of approximately $ 600 million each. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) expects block IIIA, Block IIIF, to build 22 additional GPS III spacecraft to fully enhance the military's GPS configuration, [PDF] low to no cost savings per unit , GAO estimates that these 22 satellites, which are also likely to be built by Lockheed Martin, will cost an incredible $ 12 billion, or ~ $ 550 million apiece.

On the scale of the inefficient space procurement apparatus of the US military, ~ $ 600 million per satellite is unfortunately a pretty good deal. Two equally state-of-the-art USAF satellite acquisition programs – the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) – and the Space-Based Infrared System constellation – have more than doubled their initial cost estimates. Throughout the program, the GAO estimates that six AEHF satellites are worth no less than 3 billion dollars per while SBIRS has six new satellites, which are estimated to be $ 3.2 billion cost, even worse.

Lockheed Martin's assembly line GPS Block IIIA. (USAF)

In the meantime, the Raytheon-built "OCX" floor systems needed to take advantage of the $ 19 billion GPS III satellite upgrades, as well as an acquisition boondoggle Costs have almost doubled in recent years. the final cost after years of delay is no less than $ 6.2 billion. All in all, the completion of the updated GPS III constellation is expected to cost only a minimum of $ 25 billion. These costs do not even include launches, but the cost of launching all spacecraft will – in rare cases – make up a small fraction of the total purchase, perhaps $ 3 to $ 4 billion for all 32 satellites.

Regardless of the cost of the nightmare and overall inefficiency, Lockheed Martin and the USAF are slow to head for an initial GPS III capability. The ULA launch on August 22 and the SpaceX launch in January 2020 will take important steps in this direction. With luck, two more launches of Falcon 9 GPS III will follow in 2020. Six out of ten IIIA satellites have already been awarded starter contracts. five out of six were awarded to SpaceX.

Falcon 9 B1054 launches in December 2018 at SpaceX's first major launch of the USAF. (Tom Cross)

Fireworks at the End of the Year

GPS III SV03s Slip-Offs from December 2019 to January 2020 Provide an Ambitious Plan The final quarter for SpaceX has begun to take shape. Strangely, SpaceX currently has more than two months of downtime between its last launch (AMOS-17, August 6) and its next mission (Starlink 1, NET, late October). This is the longest time SpaceX has not been launched since a catastrophic failure of Falcon 9 triggered the company's launch operations from September 2016 to January 2017.

Customers' payloads are apparently unwilling, while SpaceX's own Starlink Constellation team is working hard to update the satellite design and prepare for two consecutive launches in October and November, with possibly 120 high-performance satellites orbiting to be brought.

A general overview of Starlinks bus, payload stacking and solar arrays. (SpaceX)
60 Starlink satellites successfully launched in May 2019 in an incredibly ambitious beta test for the SpaceX constellation. 50 satellites have successfully reached their final orbit, two are deliberately deorbited and the remaining 8 are still climbing well on gravity. (SpaceX)

Apart from two scheduled Starlink launches in late October and November, SpaceX has at least six more missions that could potentially be launched in the fourth quarter of 2019.


Start Date (No Earlier than)
Starlink 1 17. October
Starlink 2 4. November
Crew Dragon – Demolition in Flight 11. November
ANASIS-II – South Korea November – TBD
JCSat-18 / Kacific-1 November – TBD
Cargo Dragon CRS-19 4. December
Sirius XM-7 (SXM-7) Q4 2019 – TBD
Crew Dragon – Demo 2 December – TBD

A lack of updates from Sirius XM and the fact that Crew Dragon's demo-2 launch completely depends on the successful completion of the previous crash during the flight (IFA), meaning that both are likely to slip into 2020. The remaining six launches, however, have a very good chance of being launched in 2019, assuming everything is going perfectly during preparations for the satellite, Falcon 9 and launch pad.

SpaceX has successfully completed six launches several times in three months, making six launches in the fourth quarter of 2019 possible, even if a pragmatist would do so. Further delays are expected by 2020.

The Teslarati newsletters provide up-to-date information, on-site perspectives, and unique insights into SpaceX's rocket launch and recovery processes .


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