SpaceX will have its lowest annual total of rocket launches since 2016 this year. With 11 orbital launches through November, including two Falcon Heavy missions, the company has no chance to match its total of 18 flights in 2017 or its record 21 missions last year. However, SpaceX is gearing up for what could be a frenetic December to close the books on 2019 and set up a very busy 2020.
As early as Wednesday, the company will launch its third mission to supply the International Space Station in 2019. The CRS-19 mission, launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will ferry about 2.5 tons of cargo to the ISS. This particular Dragon capsule will be making its third flight to the station. It is believed that the Falcon 9 first stage for this mission will not have previously flown.
Liftoff of the CRS-19 flight is scheduled for 12:51pm ET (17:51 UTC) on December 4, and weather conditions are likely to be favorable. The first stage booster has already completed its static fire test.
After that, SpaceX should return to the launch pad in the middle of the month for its next launch, which will send the JCSAT 18/Kacific 1 communications satellite into space. This commercial mission is currently slated for no earlier than December 15, also from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. If the flight occurs on time, it will require a relatively quick turnaround at the launch pad.
On top of that, there are potentially two more missions before the end of the year—although the schedule for each may slip into January. SpaceX has not yet announced a launch date for the In-Flight Abort test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, a dramatic test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that will see the Dragon pull rapidly away from the rocket. SpaceX employees are still working toward a launch by the end of December for the test.
SpaceX also may launch its third batch of 60 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit before the end of this month, although the company has not announced an official launch date for this mission either.
The relatively low number of SpaceX launches in 2019—the final tally is likely to fall between 12 and 14—probably will not be repeated next year. That is because in addition to commercial cargo and likely crew missions for NASA, as well as commercial satellite flights, SpaceX intends to pick up the pace of Starlink launches next year. They could come at a cadence as high as one per month, proving the value of being able to reuse one’s own rockets.