WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force’s 45th Space Wing is preparing for a sharp increase in launch activity driven by SpaceX’s deployments of Starlink satellites, with as many as 22 missions projected for 2020.
The wing, which operates Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Eastern Range on the Florida Space Coast, supported 18 launches in 2019 and projects as many as 48 in 2020, 45th Space Wing spokesman Jim Williams told SpaceNews.
The wing is ready to handle such a steep increase in launches, Williams said. Officials three years ago set a goal to be able to support 48 launches a year. They had forecast to reach that number by 2023 but the rapid growth in Starlink missions this year means the target could be attained in 2020.
Williams cautioned that a lot could change over the course of the year that could bring the number of launches down but the wing is nevertheless gearing up for a busy 2020.
A forecast of 48 launches would include Starlink missions as well as national security satellite launches, commercial and NASA missions flown by SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. Also included in the mix are Naval Ordnance Test Unit ballistic missile tests in support of the Navy’s Trident submarines and the United Kingdom’s fleet ballistic missile program. Williams said these are rough projections and that launches are likely to move on and off the schedule as the year progresses.
The first launch of 2020 was on Jan. 6 with SpaceX putting up a third batch of 60 Starlink satellites that will provide high-speed broadband internet. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the launch that Starlink services will become available in the Northern United States and Canada after the completion of at least four more 60-satellite deployments. After 22 launches, the company would be able to offer the service around the globe.
SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell told reporters last month that the company is manufacturing seven satellites a day at its Kent, Washington, facility. The user terminals are still in low rate production at SpaceX’s factory in Los Angeles.