On Sunday, a thrice-flown rocket took to the skies for the fourth time, lofting a Dragon spacecraft that can ferry just a few tons of cargo towards the Worldwide House Station.
This specific Falcon 9 rocket first stage had solely made its first flight on Could thirtieth, with the historic launch of NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Six months later, this booster, numbered B1058, was already making its fourth flight into house. A couple of minutes after launching, the primary stage made a profitable touchdown on a drone ship and can probably fly once more early subsequent yr.
Sunday’s launch was the twenty fourth profitable one for SpaceX this yr—together with 23 orbital flights and an indication of Crew Dragon’s abort system again in January. And the corporate will not be achieved, as it could launch two or presumably even three extra missions this month. Subsequent up for the Falcon 9 is the launch of a big satellite tv for pc for Sirius XM to geostationary switch orbit, presumably as early as Thursday.
The corporate has already smashed by means of its earlier report of yearly launches, 21, set again in 2018. It’s all the extra outstanding that SpaceX has achieved this throughout a pandemic, which halted launch exercise for months within the European Union and India. The corporate’s closest rivals in the US had been Rocket Lab’s Electron booster (six launches to this point, with an extra flight deliberate in December) and United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket (5 launches, with no additional 2020 missions deliberate).
Sunday’s CRS-21 provide mission for NASA additionally marked the completion of 100 profitable missions for the Falcon 9 rocket, which made its debut in June 2010. With two extra launches this yr, SpaceX could have flown one-quarter of all its Falcon 9 flights in simply this yr.
SpaceX has been in a position to obtain this elevated launch cadence due to a maturing design for its workhorse rocket. In Could, 2018, the corporate flew the “Block 5” variant of its Falcon 9 rocket for the primary time. This was the third main improve to the Falcon 9 rocket and constructed upon what SpaceX had discovered from earlier variations of the Falcon 9 first stage. It was additionally optimized for reuse, each by way of fast turnaround instances and sturdiness.
On this, the Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 rocket has achieved very nicely. The upgraded booster has flown 45 instances since its first launch, all profitable. SpaceX has recovered rockets and re-flown them inside 50 days. And to this point, it has been in a position to re-fly the identical first stage as many as seven instances. The corporate is prone to attain its objective of 10 flights for a single Falcon 9 first stage someday subsequent yr.
One other think about SpaceX’s elevated cadence is the corporate’s must get its Starlink satellites on orbit and ship broadband Web from house. Fourteen of this yr’s Falcon 9 launches have lofted batches of 60 Starlink satellites or, in some circumstances, fewer, to accommodate rideshare payloads. We are able to most likely anticipate not less than as many Starlink launches in 2021.