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Manned missions, moon shots: what else can we expect from SpaceX for 2018?

SpaceX has blasted to the history books with the successful launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket last night, but you might be wondering about its other plans for 2018.

Falcon Heavy is expected to have a few more appearances, with its first commercial payload set for a vague “first half of 2018” timeline, according to Space Flight Now. The mission, to lift-off from Cape Canaveral, will see it launch the Arabsat 6A satellite into orbit.

The Falcon Heavy will then see another appearance (tentatively set for June), launching the US Air Force’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission. This consists of “a cluster of military and scientific research satellites”.

Falcon 9 to also make history

The smaller Falcon 9 will also see a few notable launches (aside from the usual satellite and ISS resupply missions) as it launches NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). This satellite is expected to improve our ability to detect exoplanets.

But a landmark Falcon 9 launch looms as it conducts a test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, reportedly set for August. This will be an unmanned mission, ahead of a crewed launch to the orbital outpost, also set for 2018.

A trip around the Moon

Speaking of manned missions in 2018, Falcon Heavy is due for one more launch “late” this year, announced by SpaceX in February 2017. This will be a trip around the Moon with two private citizens, the duo having paid a “significant deposit”.

“Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the Moon and return to Earth,” the private space firm said at the time.

Update, 8 February 2018: It turns out that Musk isn’t planning human spaceflight (ergo the moon trip) for the Falcon Heavy anymore.

In a recent conference call, the SpaceX founder said that progress on their new BFR rocket was going so well, they’re planning to use the new system for manned spaceflight instead of Falcon Heavy. SpaceX will only use the Falcon Heavy for crewed flights if BFR development takes longer than expected.

“If that (BFR development) ends up taking longer than expected, then we will return to the idea of sending a Crew Dragon on a Falcon Heavy around the moon, and potentially do other things with crew on Falcon Heavy,” Musk was quoted as saying by Space News.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More

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