6 Space Missions to Watch in July 2024: Starliner Returns, SpaceX Launches Polaris Dawn

Watch Boeing's Starliner spacecraft bring astronauts back from the ISS for the first time.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will bring NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore (L) and Suni Williams back from the ISS on July 1. AFP via Getty Images

Last month, Boeing made history when it successfully launched its Starliner spacecraft into space after three delays, sending a crew of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). July will kick off with the space crew returning to Earth. But that won’t be the only space event to watch that week. As the return vessel heads for Earth, Firefly Aerospace will be preparing to send a rocket, appropriately named “Noise of Summer,” in the other direction as part of a Nanosatellite mission. 

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has multiple launches scheduled. After successfully sending up its Starship megarocket for the 4th time in June, the space exploration company has earmarked July for its next launch. But it isn’t stopping there. SpaceX is also preparing for the launch of Polaris Dawn, which Space.com describes as the company’s “most ambitious crewed mission to date.In other news, Rocket Lab is gearing up for its next mission, which centers around a new-generation satellite.

Here are six space missions to watch in July 2024:

  • July 1: Firefly’s “Noise of Summer” (FLTA005) satellite mission: Texas-based Firefly Aerospace will kick off July with the launch of the FLTA005, or “Noise of Summer” mission using a two-stage, expendable Firefly Alpha rocket designed for commercial small satellite launches. The mission, scheduled to blast off at 4 :03 a.m. UTC from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara, Calif., will mark the small satellite launcher’s fourth test flight. It will carry eight cubesats as part of NASA’s ELaNa 43 (Educational Launch of a Nanosatellite) mission.
  • July 2: Boeing’s Starliner brings astronauts back to Earth. Last month, Boeing’s thrice-delayed Starliner Crewed Flight Test (CFT) launch finally sent astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS. These NASA crew members are scheduled to return from the ISS on July 2, pending no further technical complications, after helium leakage and thruster problems pushed back the return from June 26.
  • July 2: SpaceX launches Starlink Group 8-9 satellites. SpaceX has a busy month planned with several missions scheduled. On the same day as Starliner’s return mission, SpaceX will launch a batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Florida. This omega-constellation collection is part of the company’s satellite-based internet service. 
  • July 9: ESA’s Ariane 62 maiden flight. The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing for the first test flight of its newest heavy-lift rocket after multiple delays. Designed by the French firm ArianeGroup, the Ariane 62 has two solid boosters and is intended for both government and commercial missions. The mission is scheduled to launch from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. Although no specific time has been set, the mission has a three-hour launch window between 2 p.m and 5 p.m local time.
  • TBD: SpaceX’s Polaris Dawn launch. The start of SpaceX’s new series is scheduled for July, although the company hasn’t released a set date yet. The billionaire entrepreneur and pilot Jared Isaacman is funding the first of three missions that will comprise the Polaris Program. The first mission will include an attempt at history’s first “all-civilian spacewalk.” It follows the Inspiration4 launch of 2021, a SpaceX mission that took Isaacman and several other patrons into space.
  • TBD: Rocket Lab’s Capella Acadia 3 Electron mission. Leading small rocket maker Rocket Lab is preparing for the launch of Capella Acadia 3 Electron rocket. This expendable two-stage orbital launch vehicle has an optional third stage. Its payload includes a single Earth-imaging Acadia (SAR) satellite, designed and operated by Capella Space. Though no date has been set, the mission is expected to blast off from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand into low earth orbit. 
6 Space Missions to Watch in July 2024: Starliner Returns, SpaceX Launches Polaris Dawn