SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to launch five times next year

New US military confirmation of a third SpaceX Falcon Heavy contract means that the world’s most powerful operational rocket has five launches firmly scheduled next year.

On October 30th, a US Space Systems Command spokesperson confirmed to SpaceNews that the military’s USSF-67 contract with SpaceX – announced in August 2020 – is for a Falcon Heavy launch directly to geostationary orbit (GEO). According to the same spokesperson, despite more than a year of payload-side delays to similar USSF-44 and USSF-52 Falcon Heavy launches, USSF-67 remains “on track for [a] mid-to-late 2022 launch.”

Following a roundabout confirmation about a month ago that satellite internet provider ViaSat’s first ViaSat-3 satellite is on track to launch no earlier than (NET) Q2 2022, Falcon Heavy now has at least five missions – half of the rocket’s entire manifest – that will likely be ready to launch in 2022. First up, originally scheduled to launch in late 2020, early 2021, mid-2021, and late 2021, unspecified payload issues recently delayed Falcon Heavy’s USSF-44 launch to Q1 2022. Assuming no further delays, which seems an unwise gamble at this point in time, USSF-44 will be SpaceX and Falcon Heavy’s first operational US military launch and first direct geostationary (GEO) launch, a mission profile that requires the rocket’s upper stage to coast for ~6 hours through multiple radiation belts before reigniting ~36,000 km (~22,300 mi) above the Earth.

If USSF-44 slips a few more months, though, then ViaSat-3 could become SpaceX’s first direct GEO launch, as well as the first commercial direct-to-GEO launch ever in Q2 2022. Headed to an easier geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), USSF-52 is also scheduled to launch on Falcon Heavy in Q2 2022, though delays to it and USSF-44 are equally likely.

Fourth in line, Falcon Heavy is scheduled to launch NASA’s Psyche asteroid explorer during a few-week window in August 2022, marking the first of at least three NASA missions set to exploit the most capable and cost-effective deep space commercial launch vehicle in history.

Finally, the US military will apparently be ready for Falcon Heavy to launch USSF-67 directly to GEO sometime in the second half of 2022 – perhaps before Psyche but more likely in the last few months of the year. Just like USSF-44 and likely ViaSat-3, too, SpaceX will have to expend Falcon Heavy’s center core during USSF-67’s launch to give the upper stage enough performance for a direct GEO injection, while the rocket’s two side boosters will land on separate drone ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to launch five times next year
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