The First Commercial Launch of Falcon Heavy — Part 4: What Next?

Now that this launch went off successfully, here are some of the tentative timelines merged together. I know that this is far from a complete list; tell me in the comments if you know of any other important events that you think should be included. Understand that Wikipedia (from which I compiled this list), still thinks that SLS will fly in 2020…which many folks still think is unlikely. I think that every minute later than that endangers the program.

Note below how the International Space Station needs to be replaced very soon by Commercial Space Stations or we have to wait many years, until the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is complete, before continual human habitation in space can continue. Also note that with current timelines where they are and relations between the U.S. and Russia declining at the current rate, the only access to space by the U.S. and possibly the world might be on harward owned by SpaceX and the New Space version of Boeing for several years.

Lastly, I read yesterday about a late-breaking plan to build a smaller  LOP-G to speed the path to boots on the ground on the Moon, to meet the new 2024 deadline. I have not included that idea below.

Today — Falcon Heavy’s second flight, its first commercial flight, and its first flight with the new Block 5 booster design, successfully deployed the Arabsat-6A satellite.

Today — SpaceIL installed the new Beresheet Crater in the Sea of Serenity on the Moon. Better luck next time folks! They were the first commercial company to send a probe to lunar orbit and at $95M it was probably by far the least expensive lunar orbitor/impactor in history). Cheer up! Space exploration is hard and partial first achievements push back the envelope too. To put this in perspective, click here.

Later this year — Falcon Heavy’s third flight, second flight for the side boosters from this week’s flight, and first flight for the U.S. Air Force.

Later this year — First crewed flight of Falcon 9 and the Crewed Dragon capsule, first Commercial Crewed flight to the International Space Station and first orbital crewed flight on a commercial rocket, and first ever certification of a commercial carrier for transporting humans to and from Earth orbit. This is all relevant to those article because every launch made by SpaceX downstream from this one will be made by one of only four or five organizations in the world running a human space flight program.

Later this year — Extended hop tests of Starship.

April 2020 — Second un-crewed test flight of the Orion capsule and Orion’s first trip to the Moon and back…carried by the first test flight of SLS Block 1.

2020 — Boeing’s Commercial Crew capsule will launch it’s first crewed mission to the ISS aboard the Atlas IV…making them both crew-rated systems and ready to compete with SpaceX for crewed flights to orbit for NASA and others.

2020 — An Atlas IV rocket will launch Bigelow Aerospace’s Nautilus module, an independent crewed inflatable research station with 330 cubic meters of living space that can house a crew of six. This spacecraft will later be boosted to low Lunar orbit.

2020 – Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin starts flying its New Glenn orbital rocket. At this point Blue Origin stops being a billionaire vanity project and becoming competition. We all know what happens to a market when Bezos steps into it.

2020 – This may be the end of Russia’s involvement with the International Space Station. Understand, they will not just walk away, they will undock their modules and deorbit them or use them elsewhere, leaving the ISS unusable. This would abruptly end NASA’s Commercial Crew and Commercial resupply programs. The Russians might wait for as long as 2028 to leave, depending on how well the U.S. and Russia are getting along. NASA has plans to hand it all over to Commercial Space, but someone would have to come up with a suitable replacement for the Russian parts and folks are dubious as to whether or not it’d even be worth it to a company financially. Someone really needs to orbit something else very soon…something a bit bigger than just Nautilus.

2020-2022 — Test flights and then later operational flights of Falcon Super Heavy and Starship…marking the beginning of the end of the Falcon 9 program…which would include the Falcon Heavy.

2022 — Third operational flight of Orion, Orion’s first crewed flyby of the Moon, second flight of the SLS Block 1 design to put the Propulsion Module of the Lunar Orbital Platform/Gateway (aka LOP-G — essentially NASA’s International Interplanetary Spacecraft) into a Lunar L2 (far-side) orbit. If on time, these astronauts will be the first humans to fly to the Moon since the Apollo program..if not, then #dearMoon will be.

2023 — #dearMoon, the world’s first ever commercial Lunar mission, flies on SpaceX’s 100 seat Falcon Super Heavy and Starship with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and 7 of the world’s leading artists aboard. BTW, Unlike Orion, Starship is an Interplanetary Spacecraft.

2023 — Europa clipper flies on…something…not SLS…Falcon Heavy maybe, or Falcon Super Heavy. Depending largely on politics, successful development, and whether or not Congress insists again that it MUST fly on SLS.

2024 — The Trump administration insists that we have boots on the ground on the Moon by this point…the end of Trump’s second term in office…”at all costs”. Most folks think that “we” means NASA…I think he doesn’t care so long as the mission is “Made in the U.S.A.”, which by 2024 will not necessarily have to be NASA. Maybe some kind of accelerated program deeply integrated with commercial partners.

2024 — Second module of LOP-G goes into Lunar L2 orbit aboard the first flight of the SLS Block 1B design. From here NASA plans to launch a module roughly every year on an SLS Block 1B, and later Block 2, until the LOP-G’s planned completion and flight to Mars in 2030 or so.

2025 — SpaceX’s plan to begin flying crewed missions to Mars starts about here.

2029 — First flight of SLS Block 2.

Click here to search all articles in this blog that talk about Falcon Heavy.

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~ by Bill Housley on April 7, 2019.

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