SpaceX Reaches New Reusability Record
January 20th, 8:02 AM Est atop a Falcon 9 rocket from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center
For their first Starlink launch of the year SpaceX expanded the envelope of their booster recovery capabilities. Not only is this the first time we've seen a first stage booster fly eight times, but it was also the highest level winds during a landing attempt. Originally slated to launch Monday, January 18th, weather conditions pushed it back a day. Then the official SpaceX twitter page tweeted out the following statement, "To allow additional time for pre-launch inspections, now targeting Wednesday, January 20 at 8:02 a.m. EST for launch of Starlink" When we arrived Wednesday morning they weather at the Cape appeared perfect, the recovery conditions were low and all signs pointed to it finally happening today. Launch came precisely at 8:02:17 from LC-39A and booster 1051 earned it's way into the history books. Those following along with the booster flights know that 1049 was the pack leader until this launch and the first ever to make seven successful flights. Booster 1051 followed in it's seventh flight just a few months later and now at just thirty-eight days after it's last flight, another turnaround record, it has made it's way to the top of the leader board after successfully landing back on the drone ship JRTI (Just Read The Instructions).
Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX has stated he hopes for ten flights of each first stage Falcon 9 before needing major refurbishments. This is one of the key components of the company, being able to save time and money by re-flying the first stages and cut costs down to customers using their launch services. So far they have successfully landed seventy-two boosters now, with over fifty of them having been used before. With the 45th Space Wing anticipating over fifty launches from Cape Canaveral this year I would say it is safe to say we will see that tenth flight met before the end of the year, even sooner if they continue down the path of quick turn arounds between flights. Today's flight also marks the one hundred and fifth flight for a Falcon 9 rocket and the eighteenth landing on this particular drone ship. SpaceX has three landing zones in Florida, well one landing zone or LZ-1 being on the actual coast of Florida at Canaveral Space Force Station, and the other two being drone ships that are towed offshore to be mobile LZs.
Today’s cargo, another batch of sixty Starlink satellites for the company. If you don’t remember, Starlink is the internet communications constellation of satellites run by SpaceX to provide high speed, low cost internet across the globe. The company is currently in limited public beta testing with a wider release coming in the next few months. SpaceX states they only need twenty-four launches to reach global coverage and should easily begin later this year. Starlink is estimated to profit between 30-50 billion dollars annually with the intentions to use that money to finance the companies newest venture, their Starship program. This is the sixteenth launch of operational Starlink satellites, making the number in orbit currently around 1,013. I say around because some of them have stopped operating and SpaceX deorbited them so they could burn up entering Earth’s atmosphere.