Images Source: SpaceX
In 2020 SpaceX will have a very exciting, active year -from deploying their Starlink mega-constellation to launching the FIRST manned mission aboard their Crew Dragon spacecraft. Let's dive into what is planned for next year!
Image Source: NASA spaceflight
SpaceX will have a record breaking rocket launch manifest in 2020. They are scheduled to conduct over 30 launches, this year they only conducted 13. The most launches SpaceX has preformed in one year are 21. Besides scheduled contracts to deploy cargo for various companies, the increase is mostly due to Starlink satellite deployments scheduled for approximately every 2 weeks. Which could add up to a total of 24 Falcon 9 rocket launches solely dedicated to building the Starlink constellation.
SpaceX will develop a broadband internet network that will beam signal from space down to Earth at the speed of light, bypassing the limitations of our current communication infrastructure. SpaceX aims to offer Starlink internet services to fund their space program that involves further funding for Starship/Super Heavy development, as well as building Moon Base Alpha and the first city on Mars.
So far, they have deployed 120 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. They are scheduled to launch another batch of 60 satellites soon, by January 3, 2020. That mission will be followed by another Starlink launch mid-January, which would mark the fourth batch of 60 satellites deployed into orbit. President of SpaceX said as many as 24 Starlink rocket launches are planned for next year:
"We need 360 to 400 to have a constant connectivity where the satellites can end up through the ground talking to each other. Once we get to 1,200 satellites, we will have coverage of the whole globe."
After 24 rocket launches, they expect to achieve global coverage.
The United States Air Force has been testing Starlink internet connection on the cockpit of military airplanes. They have beamed high-speed encrypted internet into Starlink user terminals fixed to the cockpit. SpaceX's President told reporters that Starlink has been, "one hundred times faster" than previous connections. Military has been testing Starlink while flying and the technology has demonstrated internet speeds of 610 megabits per-second, equivalent to a gigabyte every ~13 seconds.
SpaceX hopes to be ready to offer Starlink services to the public before the end of 2020 in Northern United States and Canada, and hope to achieve global coverage by 2021. According to a recent approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Starlink could go live to be utilized by emergency first responders as soon as next year in southern United States during hurricane season if terrestrial communication systems get damaged.
During 2020, SpaceX teams will also work in the development of their next-generation spacecraft, the flight version of Starship at their South Texas facility located in Boca Chica. They will conduct sub-orbital flight tests and aim to perform the first orbital test flight too. Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, said:
"We’re now building flight design of Starship SN1, but each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0."
We’re now building flight design of Starship SN1, but each SN will have at least minor improvements, at least through SN20 or so of Starship V1.0.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 28, 2019
This next production line of the craft could be referred to as Starship V1.0/SN1 through SN20 (SN stands for Serial Number). As SpaceX learns from the manufacturing and testing process they will incorporate some changes needed towards improving the craft. So the first twenty Starships Version 1.0 could feature slight changes different from one another. Musk gave a forecast for when a fully assembled Starship test flight would take place in Texas, "Flight is hopefully 2 to 3 months away."
This phase of Starship development is guaranteed to be exciting! We will see a lot of hard-work take place at SpaceX Boca Chica, Texas in the coming months before Starship V1.0/SN1 debut flight takes place in 2020.
SPACEX'S CREW DRAGON FIRST MANNED FLIGHT
SpaceX is also arriving to the final phase of Crew Dragon testing, they will conduct a an In-Flight Abort (IFA) test which will simulate a launch emergency on January 11, 2020.
During this IFA test, SpaceX will demonstrate how the Crew Dragon spacecraft's launch escape system works during an emergency situation. They will simulate a launch emergency without a crew as a Falcon 9 rocket takes off. Seconds later after lift off, the Dragon spacecraft is expected to fire it's integrated SuperDraco abort engines to pull away from the Falcon 9 rocket while in-flight.
This upcoming IFA test will be a major deciding factor on whether we will see the first manned mission take place in 2020. NASA will determine if the craft would be capable of handling the most dangerous of circumstances by escaping safely away from danger, then landing with it's integrated parachutes. NASA officials said in a statement:
"The demonstration will provide valuable data toward NASA certifying SpaceX's crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station."
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Source: NASA
If the test goes well, SpaceX will earn approval from NASA to fly astronauts for the very first time to the International Space Station within the first quarter of 2020. This first crewed mission, called Demo-2, will launch Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station aboard Crew Dragon. It will become one of SpaceX's greatest achievements, their goal has always been to transport humans aboard their spacecraft. If successful, it would demonstrate their technology is reliable to safely transport a crew to the Moon one day and eventually Mars. So 2020 will certainly be an important year for SpaceX filled with missions and so many goals to attain!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.