After SpaceX achieved a record-breaking 12 Falcon 9 launches in March, the company aims to continue this cadence during April. Missions in the next week include a Starlink flight, a mystery-shrouded launch from China, then another three Falcon 9’s toward the end of the week — two more Starlinks and the first of a series of new mid-inclination rideshare missions,  Bandwagon-1. Finally, the much-anticipated second launch attempt of the final Delta IV Heavy carrying NROL-70 is now scheduled for the very end of the week after ground equipment issues delayed the first attempt.

The high cadence of SpaceX missions means that they are very susceptible to cascading schedule changes when a flight encounters a delay. For instance, the weather delay to last Saturday’s Starlink Group 7-18 mission at Vandenberg is likely to have a knock-on effect on the Starlink 8-1 launch. Consequently, this roundup will change to reflect the revised schedule.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 7-18

A new launch time has been announced for this mission of Monday, April 1, at 7:30 PM PDT (Tuesday, April 2, at 02:30 UTC). The Falcon 9 had been scheduled to launch from Space Launch Complex (SLC) 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) on Saturday, March 30 , but was scrubbed due to unfavorable weather in the area.

Once Starlink 7-18 gets off the ground, the vehicle will fly on a southeast trajectory with a minimal “dogleg” maneuver required to get its batch of 22 Starlink v2 Mini satellites into an orbit inclined 53 degrees to the equator. The booster supporting this mission is B1071-15, which last flew the Starlink Group 7-13 mission in February. After stage separation, it will land downrange on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) Of Course I Still Love You. This particular ASDS is based out of Long Beach, California for VSFB flights and is the only one assigned to the Pacific at present.

Due to unfavorable weather, we are standing down from tonight’s Falcon 9 launch of @Starlink from California. Vehicle and payload remain healthy. Teams continue to keep an eye on the weather as they work toward the next best opportunity for liftoff – we will announce a new launch…

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 31, 2024

This flight will be the 32nd Falcon 9 launch of 2024 unless it is leapfrogged by another flight. SpaceX’s 31 orbital flights this year — not counting Starship IFT-3, which also took place in March — matches the 2021 total of 31 launches for the whole year and would exceed the total number of launches for the company for any given calendar year before that.

Long March 2C? | Yaogan 30?

Currently expected to launch on Tuesday, April 2, at 22:55 UTC from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan, China, details of both the launch vehicle and payload are speculative.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 8-1

SpaceX’s next launch out of VSFB was scheduled for no earlier than Thursday, April 4, before the delay to the Starlink 7-18 mission. Consequently, this mission is likely to move to the following week, as SLC-4E’s average turnaround is roughly a week. The booster will launch the first of a new group of Starlink v2 Mini satellites into orbit before landing 642 kilometers downrange on the SpaceX ASDS Of Course I Still Love You. There is speculation that this batch may be a version of the new “direct to cell” Starlink satellites.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 6-47

No earlier than Friday, April 5 is the current schedule for this batch of Starlink v2 Mini satellites launching from CCSFS SLC-40 and expected to land on an ASDS positioned downrange.

This will be SpaceX’s 333rd mission overall (not counting Starship’s three integrated test flights), and 33rd this year.

One down, two to go.

Falcon 9 launches Eutelsat 36D from LC-39A at 5:52pm local time.


— Max Evans (@_mgde_) March 30, 2024

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Bandwagon-1

The Bandwagon-1 mission is the first of a new rideshare service by SpaceX that will launch multiple satellites into mid-inclination orbits, as opposed to the Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO) of the Transporter missions. This provides another launch option for small satellite operators, who have been largely relying on smaller launchers such as Rocket Lab’s Electron to reach mid-inclination orbits.

Expected no earlier than Sunday, April 7,  at 7:17 PM EDT (23:17 UTC) and launching to a 45.4-degree orbital inclination with at least one insertion orbit around 590 kilometers in altitude, the Falcon 9 will take off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center before performing a return-to-launch-site landing at Landing Zone 1, just a few miles to the south.

At least ten payloads are expected on this mission, including one for South Korea’s 425 Project, which is the second of five satellites for this constellation to be launched by SpaceX. The satellite was built by a consortium with Thales Alenia Space, who built the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payload, Korean Aerospace Industries, and Hanwha Systems Corporation. The first of this constellation, an optical Earth observation satellite, launched in December from SLC-4E at VSFB in California.

Additionally, the Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space, Inc. will launch a SAR satellite, QPS-SAR-7, named “TSUKUYOMI-II.” This small high-resolution X-band SAR Earth observation satellite will be the first of more than 30 operational satellites in the constellation. The satellite features a 3.6-meter diameter antenna of only 10 kilograms with a resolution of 0.7 meters and can identify cars on the road. It features two deployable solar arrays and electric thrusters for station keeping and deorbiting.

Capella Space’s Acadia-4 satellite, will also launch on this mission. While Capella has used SpaceX for multiple launches to SSO in the past, the previous Capella flights to mid-inclination orbits have all launched on Rocket Lab Electrons, including one that was lost in a failed Electron launch in September 2023. These are SAR satellites with 700 megahertz radar bandwidth.

India’s first private sector-produced military satellite, TSAT 1A, was built by Tata Advanced Systems Limited in collaboration with the Latin American firm Satellogic. Controlled by a new ground control center in Bengaluru, this satellite “empowers India with a sovereign eye in the sky, capable of capturing images with a resolution of 0.5 meters.”

TSAT-1a readied for integration. (Credit: SattelLogic)

Six Hawkeye 360 satellites are used to detect electronic signals to monitor human activity across the globe and assist with emergencies. The Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies manufactures the bus and integrates the radio frequency payload developed by HawkEye 360.

ULA Delta IV Heavy | NROL-70

The Delta family of rockets started its service in May 1960 with the first launch of what was then known as the Thor-Delta, based on the Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile. The very last launch of the Delta family is now expected no earlier than April 8 at 12:57 PM EDT (16:57 UTC) from SLC-37B. This flight is a classified mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The previous launch attempt was scrubbed at T-3:58 on Thursday, March 28, after a ground support issue — a faulty pump related to the pad gaseous nitrogen supply — was revealed as the T-4 minutes hold was lifted.

The Delta IV Heavy, the heaviest-lifting variant of the Delta IV family with a common booster core (CBC) stage and two CBC stages mounted as boosters, has been the final variant of the Delta IV family to continue flying. While medium-capacity Delta IV variants have been retired since 2019, the NRO had heavier payloads that required the Heavy variant’s capabilities and that needed to fly before new vehicles were fully available.

The NRO’s Delta IV Heavy flights out of Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) have flown spacecraft thought to be signals intelligence satellites to geostationary orbits, as opposed to the electro-optical reconnaissance payloads from SLC-6 at VSFB. If this flight follows form, NROL-70 will be taking its payload on a due east trajectory out of CCSFS into a geostationary orbit.

The Delta IV Heavy, capable of launching up to 13,810 kilograms to a geostationary transfer orbit, is making its first and only flight of 2024, its 16th overall flight, and the second flight this year for the United Launch Alliance. NROL-70 will also be the very last of 389 Delta family rockets that have flown since the dawn of the space age, with a 95 percent success rate.

(Lead image: Delta IV Heavy stands ready to launch.  Credit: ULA)

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