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The Week Ahead: Virgin Orbit, ABL Space, SpaceX and Chinese Launches Scheduled

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

While the first week of 2023 saw only one launch worldwide, things will get a lot busier in week 2. Virgin Orbit is set to conduct its first launch from the UK, ABL Space hopes to launch its first rocket ever, and SpaceX and China have three launches apiece on their manifests.

Updated at 1/8/23 at 3:23 p.m. PST: SpaceX OneWeb launch postponed 24 hours to Jan. 9 at 11:50 pm EST. Awaiting word on whether this will impact the rest of SpaceX’s manifest this week.

Orbital Launches
Jan. 8-14

Date Launcher – Organization Payload – Organization Purpose Launch Site
Jan. 8 Long March 7A – CASC+ Shijian-23 – CAST* Tech demo Wenchang
Jan. 9
11:50 pm ET
Falcon 9 – SpaceX 40 OneWeb – OneWeb Broadband Cape Canaveral
Jan. 9 Ceres-1 – Galactic Energy TBA TBA Yellow Sea
Jan. 9-13
5 pm ET
RS1 – ABL Space VariSat-1A, 1B – VariSat Tech demo PSC-Alaska
Jan. 9
5:16 pm ET
LauncherOne – Virgin Orbit Multiple Multiple Cornwall
Jan. 9
11:15 pm ET
Falcon 9 – SpaceX 51 Starlink – SpaceX Broadband Vandenberg
Jan. 12
5:45 pm ET
Falcon Heavy – SpaceX CBAS-2, LDPE-3A – U.S. Space Force Communications, tech demo Kennedy
Jan. 14 Long March 3B/E – CASC+ ChinaSat-26 – China Satcom Communications Xichang
*China Academy of Space Technology
+China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

Virgin Orbit’s will conduct its “Start Me Up” launch from Spaceport Cornwall in England. The company’s Cosmic Girl 747 jetliner will take off from Newquay Cornwall Airport and drop the LauncherOne rocket off the southern coast of Ireland. It will be the first orbital launch to originate from the United Kingdom.

The rocket is carrying nine satellites from the United Kingdom, United States, Oman and Poland. The AMAN Earth observation satellite will be Oman’s first satellite.

Virgin Orbit
Start Me Up Launch Payloads

Payload Company/Agency Purpose Nation
AMAN ETCO Earth observation Oman
CIRCE A, B DSTL*/NRL# Ionospheric research UK/USA
DOVER RHEA Group Tech demo UK
ForgeStar-0 Space Forge Tech demo UK
IOD-3 Amber Satellite Applications Catapult Maritime domain awareness UK
Prometheus 2A, 2B UK Ministry of Defence/NRO+ Tech demo UK/USA
STORK-6 SatRevolution Earth observation Poland
* Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
# U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
+ National Reconnaissance Office

All previous Virgin Orbit flights have originated from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. LauncherOne has a record of four successes and one failure.

ABL Space is hoping to get its RS1 launcher off the ground for the first time this week from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska after multiple unsuccessful attempts last year. The launch window runs from Jan. 9-13. The rocket is carrying a pair of VariSat technology demonstration satellites designed to provide high frequency marine data communications.

RS1 rocket at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska. (Credit: ABL Space Systems)

RS1 is a two-stage rocket designed to place payloads weighing 1,350 kg (2,976 lb) into low Earth orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 is set to launch 40 OneWeb broadband satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Monday. It is the second of three Falcon 9 launches booked by OneWeb.

Another Falcon 9 will launch 51 Starlink broadband satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. It will be SpaceX’s first Starlink launch of the year. The company has launched 3,666 Starlink satellites on 70 flights since February 2018.

Elon Musk’s company will shift its attention back to Florida for a Falcon Heavy launch on Thursday. The giant rocket will carry a pair of satellites into orbit for the U.S. Space Force.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has a pair of launches scheduled that will carry communications and technology demonstration satellites.

Galactic Energy has a launch of its Ceres-1 rocket scheduled. The payload for the flight is unknown.

Last Week’s Launch

SpaceX launches its sixth Transporter mission with 114 payloads aboard on Jan. 3.

Transporter 6 — Top Payloads

Company/Agency Payloads Purpose Number
Planet Labs SuperDove Earth observation 36
Swarm Technologies (SpaceX owned) SpaceBEE Communications 12
Skykraft Skykraft Air traffic management 6*
Spire Global Lemur-2 Meteorology, ship & aircraft tracking 6
DARPA+ Blackjack Reconnaissance 4
Astrocast Astrocast Internet of Things 4
Sen EarthTV Earth observation – UHD streaming 4
Kleos Space KSF3 Navigation 4
ICEYE ICEYE Earth observation 3
Albania government/Satellogic Albania-1, -2 Earth observation 2
D-Orbit ION SCV-007, -008 CubeSat deployer 2
Lynk Global Lynk Tower 3, 4 Communications 2
Royal NLR++/TNO^/FFI** MilSpace-2 1, -2 2 Tech demo 2
Satellogic ÑuSat 34, 35 Earth observation 2
Umbra Lab Umbra-05, -06 Earth observation 2
Total 90
+Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
*5 satellites and Skykraft satellite deployer
++Royal Netherlands Space Centre
^Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research
**Norwegian Defence Research Establishment

SpaceX has launched 550 payloads on six Transporter missions since January 2021. All flights have been to sun-synchronous orbits.

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