Smallsat 2016: Shotwell Discusses Launch Plans

Gwynne Shotwell
Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell spoke at the Small Satellite 2016 Conference in Utah on Tuesday.

Shotwell talked about the importance of fully reusing the Falcon boosters, SpaceX’s Red Dragon mission to Mars, and about how SpaceX could open up Earth orbit and beyond to the smallsat community. She also defended the company’s decision to abandon development of its Falcon 1e small satellite launcher.

Although I wasn’t able to attend this year, I have pulled a summary of her talk off Twitter. Information came from the following Tweeters:

  • C. G. Niederstrasser ‏@RocketScient1st
  • Jeff Foust ‏@jeff_foust
  • David Hurst ‏@OrbitalDave
  • RITSpaceExploration ‏@RITSPEX


SpaceX’s Busy To-Do List for Rest of 2015

SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)
SpaceX vehicle integration building at Pad 39A. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was making the rounds last week in Washington, D.C., speaking before the Satellite 2015 conference and a House Armed Services subcommittee meeting. Much of the focus was on the latter, where Shotwell engaged in a she said-he said battle over launch costs with United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno.

More interesting were the updates Shotwell provided on SpaceX’s plans for 2015 and beyond. What emerged is just how crowded the company’s agenda is for the rest of the year. The table below provides a summary.


Falcon 9 Launch Delayed Again

Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 lifts off with the Thaicom-6 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

UPDATE: ORBCOMM issued the following statement indicating that more testing was needed on one of the six satellites:

All six satellites have completed additional testing and are functioning as expected. In an effort to be as cautious as possible, it was decided to perform further analysis to verify that the issue observed on one satellite during final integration has been fully addressed. The additional time to complete this analysis required us to postpone the OG2 Mission 1 Launch. We are working with SpaceX to identify the next available launch opportunity, and we will update the schedule shortly.

ORBCOMM will have to wait a little longer to get their second-generation OG2 communications satellites into orbit. SpaceX has delayed a Falcon 9 launch scheduled for Sunday that would have carried six of the spacecraft.

No reason has been given, but the rocket has been plagued by helium leaks. The Patrick Air Force Base home page lists the next launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as “TBD.”

ORBCOMM originally booked flights aboard SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 1e rocket, with the goal of beginning launches in 2010. However, SpaceX decided not to pursue development of the Falcon 1e, forcing a shift to the Falcon 9.

In October 2012, a prototype OG2 satellite was stranded in the wrong orbit when the Falcon 9 launch vehicle suffered a failure of one of its nine engines. The spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere four days after launch.

This mission has been delayed multiple times. According to’s launch schedule page, the flight has been “delayed from September, November, April 30, May 10, May 27, June 11 and June 12.”

NASA OIG: Use More Minotaurs

SpaceX and other commercial launch providers will have more competition for lofting some of NASA’s science missions — courtesy of America’s nuclear arsenal.

NASA has agreed to consider using more ICBM-derived Minotaur IV boosters to launch medium-size missions after an investigation by the agency’s Inspector General found that the move could save a significant amount of money and hedge against delays in the availability of commercial alternatives.

In a report released today, the IG’s Office said NASA has been resisting the move because it could interfere with the development of other commercial alternatives. However, agency officials said they would include Minotaur IV for medium-size science missions after they were given a draft copy of the report. Minotaur IV was already in the mix for launching small payloads.


SpaceX Plans At Least 32 Launches Through 2015

Dragon floats down under three parachutes after its maiden flight to space. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has a busy schedule ahead for its Falcon 1e and Falcon 9 rockets, with at least 32 launches scheduled through 2015. The highlights:

  • At least 23 Falcon 9 launches
  • 14 Falcon 9/Dragon COTS flights for NASA (including 2 demo missions)
  • At least 8 Falcon 9 satellite launches
  • Multiple Falcon 9 launches for Iridium (2015-17)
  • 1 Bigelow space station module launch (2014)
  • Inaugural Falcon9/DragonLab mission (2012)
  • First Falcon 9 flight from Vandenberg (2012)
  • Debut of the uprated Falcon 1e rocket (2011)
  • Approximately 9 Falcon 1e launches
  • Approximately 6 Falcon 1e flights for ORBCOMM (2011-14).