Sat. Sep 24th, 2022

On Sunday, a thrice-flown rocket took to the skies for the fourth time, lifting a Dragon spacecraft that will carry a few tons of cargo to the International Space Station.

This particular first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket hadn’t made its maiden flight until May 30, with the historic launch of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Six months later, this booster, numbered B1058, made its fourth flight into space. Minutes after launch, the first stage made a successful landing on a drone ship and is likely to fly again early next year.

Sunday’s launch was the 24th successful launch for SpaceX this year, including 23 orbital flights and a demonstration of Crew Dragon’s break-down system in January. And the company isn’t done yet, as it could launch two more or possibly even three more missions this month. The next step for the Falcon 9 is the launch of a large satellite for Sirius XM into geostationary orbit, possibly as early as Thursday.

The company has already broken its previous record of annual launches, 21, in 2018. It’s all the more remarkable that SpaceX achieved this amid a pandemic, which shut down launch activities in the European Union and India for months. The company’s closest competitors in the United States were Rocket Lab’s Electron booster (six launches so far, with an additional flight scheduled for December) and United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket (five launches, with no further 2020 launches). missions planned).

Sunday’s CRS-21 resupply mission for NASA also marked the completion of 100 successful missions for the Falcon 9 rocket, which made its debut in June 2010. With two more launches this year, SpaceX will make a quarter of all its Falcon 9 flights. have flown only this year.

SpaceX has been able to achieve this increased launch frequency thanks to a more mature design for its workhorse rocket. In May 2018, the company first flew the “Block 5” variant of its Falcon 9 rocket. This was the third major upgrade to the Falcon 9 rocket and built on what SpaceX had learned from previous versions of the Falcon 9 first stage. It is also optimized for reuse, both in terms of fast turnaround times and durability.

In this, the Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket has done very well. The upgraded booster has flown 45 times since its initial launch, all successfully. SpaceX recovered rockets and flew them again in 50 days. And so far, it’s been able to re-fly the same first leg a whopping seven times. The company is likely to reach its target of 10 flights for a single Falcon 9 first stage next year.

Another factor in SpaceX’s increased cadence is the company’s need to get its Starlink satellites into orbit and provide broadband internet from space. Fourteen of this year’s Falcon 9 launches have batches of 60 Starlink satellites or, in some cases, fewer, to accommodate rideshare’s payloads. We can probably expect at least as many Starlink launches in 2021.

By akfire1

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