Elon Musk’s SpaceX completed the first mission of 2021 on Thursday evening out of the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Falcon 9 lifted off about 9:15 p.m. carrying Turksat 5A, a new communication satellite that will expand communications in Turkey and other parts of the world. The Falcon 9′s booster landed on a drone ship. Transporter 1 is SpaceX’s next mission next week will deliver dozens of small satellites to orbit.
The space company’s first rocket launch this year will be a satellite mission to deliver a communications satellite for a Turkish company, which intends to build television broadcast services over Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The mission was initially scheduled for November and later pushed back to Monday, with the launch window opening from 8:30 p.m. to 12:29 a.m. at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. At press time, the launch has been delayed again, according to Fox 35 Orlando.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has set the lofty goal of launching 48 Falcon missions this year. That means the company will have to fly a rocket almost every week, not including tests of non-Falcon projects, such as Starship. SpaceX has scheduled its second operational ISS mission, Crew-2, for the spring, sending four astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A third mission, called Crew-3, is scheduled for the fall.
Late in the year, SpaceX also plans to fly a private ISS mission for Houston-based startup Axiom Space, carrying a crew of four, including Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom, former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, and two yet-to-be-announced space tourists. 2021 will be a critical year for SpaceX’s Starship, the giant spacecraft that will one day fly humans to the moon, Mars and beyond.
SpaceX already has two new prototypes, SN9 and SN10, standing at the launch pad at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas launch site. Musk has hinted that the two prototypes could fly simultaneously sometime in the coming weeks. On December 7, the eighth Starship prototype, SN8, successfully completed the first high-altitude test, flying to 12 kilometers and coming back almost in one piece.
If everything goes according to the plan, at least one Starship prototype will reach orbit by the end of the year. SpaceX’s ambitious satellite-based broadband internet service, Starlink, is arguably the fastest-growing division within the space company at the moment. In 2020, SpaceX launched 16 batches of Starlink satellites and started beta service in North America. More launches are expected in 2021 to enhance existing service and expand coverage globally. Six launches have been planned for January and February, although exact launch dates have yet to be determined.