After an unusual drop in launch frequency in the third quarter of 2021, SpaceX looks set to conclude the last few weeks of December with a series of Falcon 9 launches from all three of its sites on the east and west coast of the United States.
In the wake of the DART (Falcon 9 Double Asteroid Redirection Test) launch, SpaceX has scheduled its 16th Starlink launch of the year, mysteriously named Starlink 4-3. This will most likely happen next week on Wednesday 1st December.
The rocket will launch a 15-ton batch of 53 laser-coupled Starlink V1.5 satellites into orbit. Moreover, it is planned to do this using the still unknown Falcon 9 accelerator (potentially it could be B1049, B0152, B1053, B1060, B1061, B1063, B1067 or the recently launched B1058). The launch will take place from SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral LC-40 site.
In addition, the Falcon 9 B1062 is likely to support the launch of the small Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft from the Kennedy Space Center, which will be the launch vehicle’s fourth payload in 12 months. As a result of the launch, which is scheduled for December 9, a small observatory weighing about 300 kg will be put into low-earth orbit. If the mission does not have unexpected “fellow travelers”, it will be the smallest dedicated payload ever launched by Falcon 9, which “outstrips” even the TESS exoplanetary observatory weighing 362 kg. The booster is likely to return to Cape Canaveral in SpaceX’s landing zone (LZ).
Next, the launch of another previously unannounced Falcon accelerator is planned for the launch of the second of a new pair of Turkish geostationary (GEO) communications satellites, which is scheduled for December 18. The 4,500 kg Turksat 5B satellite will eventually join its twin 5A in orbit and support a variety of communication needs.
On the east coast, SpaceX’s last launch this year will be the launch of the CRS-24 Cargo Dragon 2 space station, slated for December 21st.
CEO Elon Musk expects SpaceX to launch at least one more Starlink mission (besides Starlink 4-3) by the end of 2021. Based solely on site turnaround times, the most likely time for this mission is the last week of December – about a month after DART if it occurs on the west coast, or 10-12 days after Turksat 5B on the east coast. If all goes according to plan, Falcon 9 will end the year with its 30th orbital launch in 2021.