SpaceX is currently the only aerospace company in the world capable of reliably reusing orbital-class rockets. On Friday, March 3rd, the company reused a Falcon 9 rocket a 12th time to deploy Starlink satellites to orbit. Reusability is enabling the company to significantly increase the pace of spaceflight, “the team is launching on average every 4 days,” said SpaceX. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said last month that the company aims to perform 100 Falcon 9 missions this year, which is double what it launched in 2022. Reusability will enable the company to complete this record-breaking launch manifest in 2023.
The previously-flown Falcon 9 lifted off at 10:38 a.m. PT from Space Launch Complex-4 East at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, carrying a batch of 51 Starlink satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It marked SpaceX’s 15th launch of the year.
The team is launching on average every 4 days— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 3, 2023
Approximately 8 minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff, the veteran Falcon 9 first-stage booster returned with a propulsive landing on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ droneship, stationed in the Pacific Ocean. This was the 12th launch and landing for this particular booster identified as B1061-12. It previously launched SpaceX’s Crew-1 and Crew-2 astronaut missions for NASA, the SiriusXM SXM-8 radio satellite, NASA’s 23rd Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-23) mission, NASA’s IXPE space observatory, SpaceX’s Transporter-4 and Transporter-5 rideshare flights, Globalstar FM15, ISI EROS C-3, and now three Starlink missions. As of today, SpaceX has recovered (landed) orbital-class rockets 176 times and reused 148 times.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship pic.twitter.com/hYSqcgPZgx— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 3, 2023
The fleet of 51 internet-beaming Starlink satellites were deployed to LEO around 15.5 minutes after liftoff. The satellites in this batch belong to Starlink Group 2-7 which is the fifth batch that will operate in the second Starlink shell. SpaceX is arranging the Starlink constellation in orbital shells with different orbital parameters. The satellites in this batch are believed to be first-generation satellites that will operate in Shell 2 at an altitude of 570-kilometers with an inclination of 70.0 degrees to the equator around Earth. This mission comes days after SpaceX launched the first batch of 21 second-generation (Gen2) Starlink V2 ‘Mini’ satellites on February 26. Read more: SpaceX reveals new Starlink V2 ‘Mini’ satellites designed to increase the Internet network’s capabilities
According to data maintained by Astronomer Jonathan McDowell, SpaceX has launched a total of 4,053 Starlink satellites to orbit since 2019 and around 3,756 remain in orbit. Different factors have deorbited a portion of the satellites over the years. SpaceX designed the satellites to completely burn in Earth’s atmosphere when no longer operational. Each satellite only has a lifespan of around 5 years because they operate in Low Earth Orbit so atmospheric drag pulls them down to burn in the atmosphere. SpaceX intended this to happen to minimize the potential of creating space debris and it will also enable it to continually upgrade the broadband network with new satellite deployments.
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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.