On December 18, SpaceX achieved a new Falcon 9 rocket reusability record during a mission that launched 52 Starlink satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The aerospace company is using previously-flown first-stage rocket boosters to build its Starlink broadband internet satellite constellation. The company conducted the Starlink Group 4-4 mission early Saturday morning from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off a record-breaking 11th time at 4:14 a.m. Pacific Time, setting a new reusability record as it streaked across the night sky with its nine Merlin 1D engines.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/Qlzi487ZJn— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 18, 2021
SpaceX rocket reusability is a remarkable achievement in the aerospace industry. It is currently the only company in the world capable of reusing orbital-class rocket boosters. The first-stage utilized an 11th time during the Starlink Group 4-4 mission is identified as B1051-11; It previously supported Dragon’s first crew demonstration mission to the International Space Station, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, Sirius SXM-7, and now eight Starlink missions. Soon after propelling the Group 4-4 Starlink satellites to orbit, the booster returned, landing on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ droneship in the Pacific Ocean. –“We did just have a successful landing first stage landing,” Youmei Zhou, a propulsion engineer for SpaceX, said during the launch broadcast. “Our 98th overall landing of an orbital class rocket!” they said with excitement. B1051-11 is now the most flown first-stage booster in SpaceX’s reusable fleet. The company previously planned to reuse each booster at least 10 times but now it appears they will push reusability even further. Reusability is helping the company offer cost-effective launch services. Saturday’s launch also marked the 24th launch of the year which is the most annual launches SpaceX has ever conducted, and it still has a couple missions to conduct before 2021 ends. If all goes as scheduled, SpaceX will have accomplished a total of 31 Falcon 9 missions this year.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, completing the first 11th launch and landing of an orbital class rocket booster— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 18, 2021
The 52 Starlink Group 4-4 satellites were deployed to LEO approximately twenty minutes after liftoff. SpaceX plans to deploy around 12,000 internet-beaming satellites over the next seven years. During the first phase, around 5,000 satellites will be deployed into 5 orbital shells. SpaceX is currently working on building Shell 4 which will have 1,584 satellites across 72 orbital planes with 22 satellites in each plane, operating in LEO at an altitude of 540 km 53.2°. The Starlink Group 4-4 Mission was the third launch dedicated to filling up Shell 4. With Saturday’s launch, SpaceX now operates around 1,944 Starlink satellites in orbit dispersed across Shell 1, Shell 2, and Shell 4. The Starlink constellation is providing internet to around 140,000 customers living in rural/remote regions across 20 countries. If you missed it, you can watch a recording of the Starlink Group 4-4 Mission in the video linked below.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.