By Dale Skran
On May 9th at 2:42 AM a Falcon 9 roared skyward lofting another 60 Starlink satellites to orbit. Ho-hum! That’s the 11th Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 in 2021 so far, so what’s the big deal? SpaceX has been re-using F9 first stages for a long time.
Take a look at this number: 4-8-5-5-6-8-6-9-6-7-2-7-9-10
This shows the F9 booster reuse number of every F9 launch so far in 2021. The first launch was on a booster being used for the 4th time, second launch was on a booster being used for the 8th time, and so on.
Which brings us to the present moment – the 10th launch of Booster 1051. Booster 1051 flew for the 8th time January 20, 2021, and for the 9th on March 14, 2021, in both cases launching Starlink satellites. Flying a F9 booster 10 times before a major refurbishment has long been the stated reuse goal for SpaceX, although recently Elon Musk has been sounding more optimistic on what the ultimate reuse limit might be.
In addition to hitting a key reuse milestone, here are some other points to consider:
- Every single Falcon 9 flight in 2021, all 14 of them so far, has been on a “flight proven” booster.
- SpaceX has also made fairing reuse routine; today’s launch used “flight proven” fairings.
- The first flight of Booster 1051 launched the first Dragon 2 uncrewed mission, Demo 1, on March 2, 2019.
- In Q1 of 2021, SpaceX launched the F9 nine times. If this pace continues, and so far it seems like it can, SpaceX will set a new annual launch record of 36 F9 launches.
- B1051 now has more successful missions than the Space Shuttle Challenger.
- Just a few hours before this launch, Elon Musk appeared on Saturday Night Live.
- Perhaps most significantly, the site nasaspaceflight.com has locked the forum dedicated to a discussion of “customer views of reuse” as it relates to SpaceX since all SpaceX customers are now using or planning to use “flight proven” first stages; hence there is nothing more to discuss!
Before I forget, B1051 nailed the landing on drone ship “Just Read the Instructions.” Not bad for a vehicle that some now-long-silent Internet Trolls decried as a “hobby rocket.”
© 2021 Dale Skran