On Tuesday, SpaceX launched its 11th Falcon 9 rocket of the year — featuring a brand new first stage that launches a 3.7-ton GPS III satellite into orbit for enhanced navigation services. The mission’s customer, the US Space Force, was delighted.
“The successful launch and recovery of the GPS III SV03 serves as another step in our journey with industry partners to create innovative, flexible and affordable services to meet the mission goals of the NSSL and continue America’s dominance in space. to propel it,” said Colonel Robert Bongiovi, Launch Enterprise director.
Tuesday afternoon’s launch puts the company on track for 22 missions this calendar year, which would break the company’s previous record of 21 launches in 2018. What seems more remarkable about this pace is that it happened amid a global pandemic that has slowed operations in many other countries.
For example, SpaceX’s 11 launches match the total so far this year by Russia, Europe and Japan combined. Globally, the company is second only to China’s state-owned company, which has attempted 15 orbital launches in 2020, two of which have failed.
Much of the company’s activity during the pandemic was powered by its own loads. SpaceX launched seven Starlink missions in the first half of this year, putting nearly 420 of its own satellites into low Earth orbit. The company is committed to begin offering limited commercial internet services by the end of this year or early 2021.
Barring a catastrophe, it seems likely that SpaceX will easily launch a dozen or more Falcon 9 rockets between now and the end of this year. The company has a whopping 18 launches on its manifest, including half a dozen Starlink missions, a second Crew Dragon mission, a resupply mission to the International Space Station, and several commercial missions. The next launch could take place in a week, with the Starlink-9 mission, on July 8.
Thanks to the successful recovery of the first stage from Tuesday’s launch, SpaceX now has five first stage boosters at its disposal for future missions. Of these, it will be most interesting to see if, and when, Booster 1049 flies again. This first phase has already flown five flights dating back to September 2018 and could be ready for its sixth mission by the end of July — if engineers deem it safe to fly again.
List image by Trevor Mahlmann