Featured Image Source: Stephen Marr @spacecoast_stve via Twitter
SpaceX’s fleet of reusable Falcon 9 rockets enabled it to conduct more missions in 2020 than ever before. SpaceX completed a record-breaking launch manifest this year, it conducted 26 rocket launches –the most annual launches it has performed in history. Rocket reusability has played a significant role in increasing launch cadence. Falcon 9 is capable of launching payload to orbit and returning from space to land vertically on landing pads and autonomous droneships at sea. To date, SpaceX has landed 70 orbital-class Falcon 9 boosters and reused 49. This year the company accomplished flying two particular rocket boosters 7 times. Engineers aim to reuse a first-stage booster at least 10 times to reduce the cost of spaceflight. The most reused Falcon 9 rockets that reached 7 reflights this year are two first-stage boosters identified as B1051 and B1049. SpaceX is just three flights away from achieving 10 reflights. SpaceX officials state Falcon 9 [Block 5] is designed to perform up to 100 reflights.
Stephen Marr, a spaceflight photographer who goes by the name @spacecoast_stve on Twitter, shared a photo collage of all the Falcon 9 boosters used in 2020, “SpaceX carried out a record-breaking 26 launches this year, but how many boosters did it take to get it done? The answer is 11. And here they are!” he wrote. SpaceX founder Elon Musk replied to Marr’s tweet –“Falcon was 25% of successful orbital launches in 2020, but maybe a majority of payload to orbit. Anyone done the math?” he said.
Falcon was 25% of successful orbital launches in 2020, but maybe a majority of payload to orbit. Anyone done the math?— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 27, 2020
Another Twitter user @conexionspacial responded, “According to my calculations and the data of all the known masses, since some are unknown, more than 416,467 Kg were launched, of which 238,617 Kg were launched by SpaceX, that is, more than 57.2% of all the total mass sent,” they wrote. “Interesting,” Musk replied.
Interesting— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 27, 2020
Out of the 26 missions performed this year, 14 launches have been internal SpaceX missions to deploy Starlink satellites for it’s broadband internet network in low Earth orbit. Starlink missions are deployed atop previously-flown, refurbished Falcon 9 rocket boosters. The rest of the launches performed this year were commercial satellite deployments and missions for NASA.
The most important missions SpaceX performed this year are the first pair of crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which aims to perform frequent crewed flights to space from American soil. SpaceX launched its first astronauts during the Demo-2 mission on May 30, 2020. The historic Demo-2 mission launched NASA Astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was the first crewed mission launched from American soil since the Space Shuttle was grounded in 2011. After the successful launch Musk blissfully stated–“…Getting astronauts to orbit after almost a decade, I think this is something that should really get people [closed fist to the chest] right in the heart - of anyone who has any spirit of exploration...[...] I am really quite overcome with emotion on this day, its kind of hard to talk, frankly. Its been 18 years working towards this goal," he said. The Demo-2 mission ended after 63-days with a successful Crew Dragon splashdown that demonstrated SpaceX’s spacecraft is reliable to transport humans safely to and from the Space Station. NASA certified Crew Dragon for routine operational missions.
Most recently, SpaceX launched its second crewed mission to the orbiting laboratory on November 15. The mission, known as Crew-1, is the first operational mission under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that launched an international crew of four astronauts. Crew-1 also lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft from Launch Pad 39A. The mission is still ongoing; Crew-1 astronauts are working at the Space Station where they will stay for six-months before returning aboard the spacecraft in 2021. Next year is guaranteed to be more exciting; SpaceX is scheduled to perform three crewed missions -two booked by NASA and one by private passengers.
Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
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.