U.S. Launch Providers Plan Busy Year in 2016

Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon Heavy. (Credit: SpaceX)

The United States has a very busy launch year ahead if all 33 flights currently on the manifest go off as planned. Given the tendency of launches to slip and rockets to occasionally go boom, that is a very big “if”.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX each have 15 launches penciled in this year, according to the latest update to Spaceflight Now’s Launch Schedule page. Orbital ATK has plans for three launches during 2016.

1.01/17/16Falcon 9Jason 3Vandenberg
2.JanuaryFalcon 9SES 9
Cape Canaveral
3.02/03/16Atlas VGPS 2F-12Cape Canaveral
4.02/07/16Falcon 9CRS 8Cape Canaveral
5.02/10/16Delta IVNROL-45Vandenberg
6.Early 2016Falcon 9Eutelsat 117 West B & ABS 2ACape Canaveral
7.Early 2016Falcon 9JCSAT 14Cape Canaveral
8.1st QuarterFalcon 9Amos 6Cape Canaveral
9.03/10/16Atlas VOA-6Cape Canaveral
10.03/21/16Falcon 9CRS-9Cape Canaveral
11.AprilFalcon HeavyDemo FlightKennedy
12.05/05/16Atlas VMUOS 5Cape Canaveral
13.05/12/16Delta IV HeavyNROL-37Cape Canaveral
15.06/10/16Falcon 9CRS 10Cape Canaveral
16.06/24/16Atlas VNROL-61Cape Canaveral
18.07/21/16Delta IVAFSPC 6Cape Canaveral
19.07/27/16Atlas VSBIRS GEO 3Cape Canaveral
20.08/15/16Falcon 9CRS-11Cape Canaveral
21.AugustFalcon 9Iridium Next 3-12Vandenberg
22.09/03/16Atlas VOSIRIS-RExCape Canaveral
23.09/15/16Atlas VWorldView 4Vandenberg
24.09/28/16Delta IVWGS 8Cape Canaveral
26.OctoberFalcon 9Iridium Next 13-22Vandenberg
27.10/14/16Atlas VGOES-RCape Canaveral
28.OctoberFalcon HeavySTP-2Kennedy
29.11/10/16Atlas VEchoStar 19Cape Canaveral
30.12/01/16Atlas VNROL-79Vandenberg
31.12/15/16Falcon 9CRS-12Cape Canaveral
32.DecemberDecember Atlas VAEHF 4Cape Canaveral
33.DecemberFalcon 9Dragon Crew Demo 1Kennedy

The highlight of SpaceX’s manifest is the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket in April. The heavy-lift booster features three clustered Falcon 9 stages with 27 engines as its first stage. A second Falcon Heavy flight is scheduled for October.

Another highlight is scheduled for December with the first flight of the Dragon Crew vehicle designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The inaugural mission will not have a crew on board.

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

The Falcon Heavy and Dragon Crew flights will lift off from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The last launch conducted from that historic pad was the final flight of the space shuttle program in 2011.

SpaceX plans five flights of its cargo Dragon vehicle to the space station this year, beginning with CRS 8 in February. The supply ship has not flown since June when a Dragon was destroyed after its Falcon 9 booster exploded after launch from Cape Canaveral.

Fifteen launches in 2016 would be a major achievement for SpaceX, which has never managed more than seven launches in any one calendar year. That record was set last year, and it was marred by the Falcon 9 loss and a six-month stand down.

Orion Exploration Flight Test launch. (Credit: NASA)
Orion Exploration Flight Test launch. (Credit: NASA)

Rival ULA has demonstrated the capacity to launch that many rockets. It launched 14 times in 2014 and another dozen rockets last year without any failures. There were 16 launches on the company’s manifest for 2016 before NASA postponed the flight of the Mars InSight landed until 2018 due to technical problems.

However, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission remains on schedule for launch in September aboard an ULA Atlas V booster. The spacecraft will visit the asteroid Bennu and return soil samples for analysis back on Earth.

Cygnus approaches ISS (Credit: NASA)
Cygnus approaches ISS (Credit: NASA)

An Atlas V is scheduled to launch Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station in March. This is the second and final scheduled Cygnus flight aboard the ULA launcher; the first flight was conducted in December.

Orbital ATK plans to launch the next Cygnus on an upgraded Antares booster at the end of May. The rocket has been fitted with a more powerful first stage engine following the loss of an Antares and Cygnus in a launch explosion in October 2014.

Orbital ATK plans to launch another Cygnus to ISS in November.  The company will launch a Minotaur-C rocket with the SkySat spacecraft on board sometime in the middle of the year.

Florida will see the most launch action this year, with 21 flights scheduled from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and three from the Kennedy Space Center.  Seven launches are schedule from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with two launches from Wallops Island in Virginia.

  • Dennis

    Are you ever going to update your stock image of the FH to something more modern?

  • Yugo Reventlov

    Presentation it everything!!!

    2026 10 Years from now MCT on Mars!


    I think SpaceX should use reusable booster first on The NASA in flight abort test. Gets NASA in the game, credit for helping SpaceX plus perfect test, should reusable booster fail, will crew capsule survive?

  • TimAndrews868

    Problem is, if they do that and it fails before max drag, they won’t have completed what they need to test. If they need a do-over that pushes back their manned flight schedule and they spend more money to get that $30M milestone check.

    They’re going to want to eliminate as much risk as they can by avoiding additional variables in the test so they can get it right the first time.

    That said… If re-use has proven reliable by then.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    Why update the stock drawing with just another artist’s concept drawing ? None of those will probably match the exact look of the actual FH when it finally reaches the launch pad. In fact, your drawing of the FH on the pad seems very off. I can’t imagine LC-39 or Vandenberg looking like that after SpaceX is done.

  • Yugo Reventlov

    This is not my drawing, this is straight from SpaceX and Wikipedia. At least it’s an up-to-date artist rendition of Falcon Heavy based on Falcon 9 Full Thrust cores, as it is going to fly, and not based on years obsolete Falcon 9 1.0 cores.

    And the render on the pad is what SpaceX released recently when they released an updated Falcon Heavy Flight Animation. The pad you see is supposed to be LC-39A. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ca6x4QbpoM

    It’s the most up-to-date and thus accurate information that is publicly available at this time.

  • Yugo Reventlov

    I believe SpaceX still has the 3-engined F9R Dev 2 vehicle that they cannot do much else with. They are apparently planning to use that one for the in-flight abort test.

  • therealdmt

    That’s a cool soundtrack you made! Did you play the instruments yourself?

    Also, I think the Falcon Heavy core won’t be able to return to launch site — you might want to show it landing on a barge (autonomous drone ship), to be more realistic. Anyway though, great job overall!


  • Yugo Reventlov

    I was almost starting to reply. Thanks for the smiley at the end there!

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Not sure they want to leave any large expensive bits of rocket behind. They’d want to bring it back to use again. Also, I’m not expecting MCT to go to Mars until a least a few recon missions done – would be a nice surprise though.


    You can read about Tinker’s guess here.


    His guess is built around safety and modularity. I would suspect his concept is close to what SpaceX will build. All of the parts should be returnable, maybe not the Hab.

    Imagine building a base from 50 foot diameter 5 story buildings!

    Such a system @John_Gardi describes make me realize why Musk is building MCT now.

    Build it, others will buy it!

    Loonies, space stations anywhere in the inner solor system.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I confess to being a tad sceptical about a 15m rocket core. Sounds a bit expensive to manufacture and awkward to move around a launch site. I am liking Tinker’s design for MCT, but a 15m diameter BFR seems a bit much. That’s a big old tube for horizontal integration and launch from strongback. Not mention recovery from landing and return to hangar. Seems to me, a 10m BFR could lift a 15m MCT to orbit for on orbit integration and fueling, and would be vastly easier to handle on Earth. Even then, 10m is the size of saturn V.
    I do wonder if Spacex wouldn’t prefer a 6-7m 3 core BFR (ala FH), although that would limit the potential diameter of MCT to nearer 10m. But even a 10m MCT should be big enough. I’m looking at this from a manufacturing and operational cost viewpoint and making the wild assumption that small diameter BFR cores would be considerably cheaper to build and easier to operate. Perhaps I lack Tinker’s ambition.


    Your guess is as good as mine.
    Sure is fun to have a positive future instead of the same old excuses 🙂


    I have heard rumors that Musk has suggested such a size to some people. 27 to 30 raptors one core. I don’t think that part was from John Gardi/tinker

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Aren’t you on NSF L2 yet DTARS?

  • TimAndrews868

    “I confess to being a tad sceptical about a 15m rocket core. ”

    The item that triggered that speculation is leaked info from SpaceX making plans for tooling large enough to make 15m diameter tanks.


    I was not aware they have a Dev2.

  • Hug Doug


    Basically the F9R Dev 2 test flight program got canned shortly after the test flight article was built, due to much better than expected results with the post-launch reentry tests of the first stage, which gave SpaceX the data they would have gotten with high-altitude testing at Spaceport America.

    I still expect SpaceX will take one (possibly more) recovered first stage to Spaceport America at some point, because there is still lots of high-risk flight envelope testing, new technology trials, etc. they can do there that they wouldn’t want to do during an operational flight.


    Got any evidence of that assertion sir? Or is that just your educated guess? Would be fun to see some recovered stage test in New Mexico!

    What was it Elon said? If you don’t crater some your not…..?


  • Hug Doug

    Well, SpaceX has been improving the site they are leasing from Spaceport America. There’s a paved section with a launch pad and a support building there. They could just write that off at any time, but as far as I know they are still paying for their lease there.

    If I were in charge, I’d pick a recovered stage to do nothing experimental on, but just launch, land, inspect, launch, land, inspect, repeat until the stage fails. That method would definitely give them data on stress points and failure modes.