SpaceX, led by the visionary Elon Musk, has sought to revolutionize the way humanity ventures beyond Earth's atmosphere. Their secret weapon? The remarkable ability to recover and reuse their orbital-class rockets, a feat no other company has managed to accomplish on such a grand scale. To date, SpaceX has performed a total of 243 launches, landed orbital-class rockets 204 times, and reused those recovered Falcon 9 first-stage boosters 177 times. Engineers are working to reuse each booster in the Falcon 9 Block 5 fleet at least 20 times; the most times that a particular Falcon 9 rocket has been reused is 15 times [as of July 3, 2023].
SpaceX closed the second quarter of 2023 with an astonishing 43 launches since the year began, averaging an incredible 4.2 days between each mission. This achievement was made possible due to their innovative approach to rocket design and operations. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said earlier this year that the company aims to launch 100 missions in 2023, which is nearly double what it launched in 2022. It is on track to complete the launch manifest with its record-breaking pace. A space enthusiast shared via Reddit a chart they created which shows information about the SpaceX rocket boosters that have been reused this year alongside the mission's names, shown below.
Source: CoastlineHypocrisy via Reddit
Unlike traditional space companies that rely on expendable rockets, SpaceX has developed groundbreaking technology that allows it to land and recover their Falcon 9 rockets after every launch. The key to this remarkable feat is a combination of cutting-edge engineering, meticulous planning, and precise execution. The Falcon 9 rockets are equipped with nine powerful Merlin 1D engines that propel payloads to orbit. Once their primary mission, such as delivering satellites to orbit or resupplying the International Space Station, is accomplished, the first-stage of the rocket separates from the upper stage. At this point, while most rockets would be discarded as space debris, SpaceX's Falcon 9 embarks on a daring return journey. Its engines reignite, precisely controlled by a complex autonomous guidance system, which sends the rocket back towards Earth. As it descends through the atmosphere, the rocket executes a series of precisely timed maneuvers, utilizing its grid fins to maintain stability and control its descent. The Falcon 9 completes the missions with a triumphant landing, touching down gently on a designated landing pad or a droneship stationed in the ocean. This remarkable feat of precision and engineering allows SpaceX to recover rockets intact, ready to be inspected, refurbished, and prepared for another mission.
The ability to reuse rockets is a game-changer for the space industry. It dramatically reduced the cost of spaceflight, making it more accessible and economically viable. Instead of constructing an entirely new rocket for each mission, SpaceX only replaces any expendable components and refurbishes the recovered stages, significantly cutting down on manufacturing and assembly costs. This revolutionary approach enables SpaceX to perform frequent spaceflights. With a fleet of reusable rockets at their disposal, they could rapidly turn around missions, launching a new payload into space just days after the previous one. Other companies with expendable rockets could only dream of achieving such a feat.
The benefits of reusability are not limited to cost savings and frequent launches. By recovering and studying the flown rockets, SpaceX engineers gain invaluable data and insights into their performance. This feedback loop allows them to refine their designs, enhance reliability, and push the boundaries of what was previously thought possible in space exploration by using the lessons learned towards developing the fully-reusable Super Heavy Starship launch vehicle.
SpaceX's relentless pursuit of innovation propels it further into the cosmos. Their ability to recover and reuse their Falcon 9 rockets is the gold standard for space companies to imitate. The once seemingly impossible dream of cost-effective and frequent space travel is starting to become a reality in the 21st century, all thanks to the visionary minds at SpaceX and their game-changing technologies.
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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.