SpaceX is a leader in the aerospace industry. It is currently the only company in the world capable of reusing orbital-class rocket boosters reliably. SpaceX has a fleet of reusable first-stage Falcon 9 boosters that have enabled the company to reduce the cost of spaceflight. To date, SpaceX has recovered 97 orbital-class rocket boosters by landing them on autonomous sea-going vessels (droneships) and on landing pads. Out of all the rockets recovered, it has reused boosters 76 times. No other company has reused that many boosters. The historic feat is setting an example for the aerospace industry to follow.
SpaceX is about to reach another historic reusability milestone. SpaceX founder Elon Musk set a goal to reuse Falcon 9 [Block 5] boosters in the fleet at least 10 times. Now, a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket will conduct a record-breaking 11th flight during the next Starlink mission, Group 4-4, scheduled during the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, December 18. The ten-times-flown Falcon 9 first-stage booster, identified as B1051-11, will liftoff an eleventh time at 4:41 a.m. PST from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
On Friday morning, SpaceX completed pre-flight checks to ensure the flight-proven rocket is ready to conduct a reflight. Engineers completed a static-fire test of the booster’s nine Merlin 1D engines to assess their performance. B1051 previously launched Dragon’s first crew demonstration mission to the International Space Station, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, Sirius SXM-7, and seven Starlink missions. SpaceX will attempt to recover the booster an 11th time by landing it on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ droneship soon after it propels the upper-stage to orbit that will deploy 52 internet-beaming Starlink satellites. The Starlink Group 4-4 Mission that will be launched on Saturday will mark the third satellite deployment of satellites into the 4th orbital shell. The Group 4-3 mission deployed 48 satellites into Shell 4 on December 2nd.
Musk previously said that reusing a first-stage at least ten times would significantly reduce the cost of spaceflight; he says a Falcon 9 booster can be reflown up to 100 times with refurbishment in between flights. It is unclear how many times SpaceX plans to reuse each booster long-term, but it’s clear that SpaceX engineers are not afraid to push the boundaries of spaceflight and will likely refly boosters until they see some kind of failure. The lessons learned from developing and launching flight-proven boosters will be valuable for the development of the fully-reusable Starship launch system. You can watch SpaceX launch a Falcon 9 an 11th time during the Starlink Group 4-4 mission Live in the video linked below, courtesy of SpaceX.
VIDEO: SPACEX STARLINK GROUP 4-4 MISSION
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.