The Space Coast of Florida will be busy this year.
As many as 53 space missions are projected to lift off in 2021 from Florida’s Space Coast, compared to 31 space launches in 2020, according to the Vice Commander of the 45th Space Wing Col. Brande Walton.
Headquartered at Patrick Space Force Base in Brevard County, south of Orlando, the 45th Space Wing oversees commercial, civil and military space launch operations from the East Coast.
In a SpaceNews article, Walton is quoted saying three of the 2021 launches are expected to be NASA human spaceflight missions — two by SpaceX and one by Boeing.
“SpaceX is also expected to continue to launch batches of Starlink internet satellites on a regular basis over the coming year. The 45th Space Wing also is preparing for the introduction of new vehicle, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur that is projected to fly for the first time in late 2021,” according to the article.
A surge in commercial launch activity from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and neighboring Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is expected in the next few years. “We’re getting up to over 60 launches a year,” said Bob Cabana, director of KSC in the article.
Jacksonville’s Cecil Spaceport will see its part of the action, too.
The Jacksonville Daily Record reported Alabama-based Aevum Inc. received a $4.9 million contract from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center to launch small satellites to low Earth orbit from Cecil Spaceport. With the award, Aevum expanded its operations into Jacksonville.
Aevum’s initial launch is scheduled for the third quarter of 2021 and will feature the use of the RAVN-X, the world’s first autonomous launch vehicle and the largest unmanned aircraft system.
The RAVN-X drone takes off from a regular runway, climbs to a high altitude and releases a small rocket. The rocket continues spaceward and releases satellites weighing between 100 and 500 kilograms.
The autonomous system and the fact it doesn’t require the costly infrastructure of a launchpad are features that caught the attention of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The RAVN-X will carry a set of small satellites that will, according to the agency, improve “real-time threat warnings” as part of its ASLON-45 mission, according to Science Magazine.
“Having a robust U.S. industry providing responsive launch capability is key to ensuring the U.S. Space Force can respond to future threats,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Small Launch and Targets Division, in a video recorded for the digital unveiling of the RAVN-X.
According to the SpaceNews article, “The adoption of autonomous flight safety systems on launch vehicles eliminate the need for tracking and communications system that can take days to reconfigure from one launch attempt to the next.”
“We were able to go from locking down the range for 72 to 96 hours to being able to support multiple launches in a single day,” said Wayne Monteith, associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration and a former commander of the 45th Space Wing.
While weather and other technical issues have so far prevented multiple launches on the same day, SpaceX expects to be able to have that capability in the very near future.