Space X is getting back in the space race after a failed launch last year derailed their efforts to dominate space flight. They just completed their third successful launch of 2017 after an attempt to launch a communications satellite ended in the destruction of the rocket, satellite and launch site. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 successfully delivered EchoStar XXIII, a commercial communications satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit on March 16.
Earlier this month, founder and CEO Elon Musk announced the company’s plans to send a crewed mission into the Moon’s orbit in 2018. The mission would come as a preamble to the company’s launch of a mission to Mars during the next landing window in the mid 2020s. The company is currently looking into landing sites for crewed and uncrewed missions in partnership with NASA’s jet propulsion lab.
The Red Dragon Mars mission was originally slated for the 2018 launch window, but SpaceX simply had too much on their plate, said Paul Wooster, systems engineer for SpaceX. Wooster also commented that the delay had nothing to do with the Red Dragon mission itself.
The landing sites must meet certain criteria, said Wooster, including being near large bodies of ice which could be used to sustain humans who land on the planet. Several sites had previously been identified, though on closer inspection they appeared to be more rocky than originally thought. The sites must also be located near the equator for the purposes of solar power generation.
In addition to their Lunar and Martian ambitions, the company recently won a contract with the U.S. Air Force to launch a GPS satellite from their Cape Canaveral launch site in early 2019. SpaceX beat out the United Launch alliance for the $96 million contract. This is the second launch the company will make for the USAF, though the last one they won had no competing bids.
“SpaceX is proud to have been selected to support this important National Security Space Mission,” said SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell, in a statement. “We appreciate the confidence that the U.S. Air Force has placed in our company and we look forward to working together towards the successful launch of another GPS-III mission.”
Gwynne says the company is now aiming to increase their launch rate to every two to three weeks.