SpaceX's next Falcon Heavy rocket launch may fly before Christmas

a sideways view of a falcon heavy rocket launching to orbit
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the classified USSF-44 payload for the U.S. Space Force launches into space from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Nov. 1, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

This week's SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch was the first one of that type in 40 months, and whetted space fans' appetites for more.

Fans of Falcon Heavy, a massive rocket built by SpaceX, won't have that long of a gap next time after the epic Nov. 1 launch that hefted a military satellite to space. The next mission may launch as soon as December, although the timing has a lot of uncertainty.

There are two contenders for the next launch: another military satellite on behalf of Space Force, or a communications satellite for ViaSat to begin a trio of high-bandwidth communication launches.

ViaSat has not yet confirmed its October promise (opens in new tab) that the launch will go later this year, and likely won't do so until it releases financial results on Tuesday (Nov. 8), at the earliest. SpaceFlightNow's launch calendar (opens in new tab) suggests NET (no earlier than) December 2022, but the date is tentative and could push into the new year.

Related: Why SpaceX hasn't flown a Falcon Heavy rocket since 2019

Alternatively, a classified payload for Space Force (called USSF-67) is expected to go forward as soon as January 2023, according to an October report from SpaceFlightNow (opens in new tab), which found possible clues for the satellite's functionality in the mission patch.

"Mission patches for the USSF-67 launch indicate it will carry the second spacecraft for the Space Force's Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM, or CBAS, program," the report stated. "The first CBAS satellite launched in 2018, and officials said then the satellite was designed to relay communications signals between senior leaders and military combatant commanders."

The long gap since the last launch in June 2019 was mostly due to delays with the delivery of payloads on the rocket's manifest, but in the meantime, SpaceX has been moving forward several times a month with launches of its much lighter Falcon 9 workhorse. It's already achieved more than 50 of those in 2022, which is a record.

Falcon Heavy itself is built on first-stage boosters, all modified versions of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, that can make vertical touchdowns after liftoff. (The core stage usually drops upon a SpaceX drone ship in the ocean, although Tuesday's launch saw the stage ditch in the ocean due to needing to use most of its fuel to boost the satellite to geostationary orbit.)

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab)Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace