SpaceX sets a new reusability record 

SpaceX launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets for a record-setting sixteenth time this week, as the sooty booster lofted another batch of Starlink internet satellites into space. 

The booster, designated B1058 by SpaceX, first made its debut in May 2020, as it carried two NASA astronauts — Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — into space. Riding in a Crew Dragon capsule, the duo would spend a few months on the International Space Station as part of a demonstration mission for NASA’s commercial crew program. 

This particular booster stands out from the rest in SpaceX’s stable not only for its record-setting flight, but also because it is the only booster to be emblazoned with NASA’s red worm logo on its fuselage. 

Following its historic first flight, the booster went on to loft 14 more missions before it took to the skies Sunday night, July 9. Those missions included launches of South Korea’s Anasis-2 military communications satellite, a space station cargo resupply mission, two Transporter ride-share missions and ten batches of Starlink satellites. 

With those launches, it joined another booster — B1060 — as the fleet’s co-leader with each booster having flown 15 times. However, with Sunday’s flight, B1058 broke the tie and set a new record, for now. 

When SpaceX debuted its souped-up, ultra-reusable Falcon 9 rocket in 2017, company CEO Elon Musk boasted that the booster would be capable of flying at least 10 times before refurbishment and at least 100 times before being retired. He also predicted that the same booster would launch, land and fly again within a 24-hour period. 

While that milestone hasn’t happened, SpaceX has surpassed the original 10 flight milestone — but not without refurbishments in between flights.

However, as the company has experimented with reusability, the time between flights has been dramatically reduced. And SpaceX has used that time to streamline the inspection and refurbishment process. 

In a press event last year, company officials said that once the boosters achieved a regular cadence of 10 flights, they were in great shape, so the engineering team started to qualify the boosters for 15 flights. As multiple boosters have reached that milestone, the company is looking to expand the reusability process even further. 

Musk said that he wishes to make spaceflight a lot like air travel — where all you have to do is refuel the rocket in between flights, like the current process with airplanes. While we are not quite there yet, SpaceX’s reusability efforts have put the rocket manufacturer at the forefront of the industry. 

In 2022, SpaceX flew a record 61 missions, most of which were on previously flown rockets.

The company is expected to significantly increase that cadence this year, with more than 40 launches already under its belt for 2023. The key to that is reusability. 

The company’s reusability efforts has enabled SpaceX to become a global launch leader, and inspired other providers to think about reusable options. Rocket Lab, another up-and-coming launch provider, has expanded its efforts to reuse its first stage boosters as well.

That’s because, according to Musk, the first stage is the most expensive portion of the rocket. And by reusing them, a company can cut down on costs, which ultimately makes spaceflight more accessible as those cost saving can be passed on to customers.

Will SpaceX achieve its long-time goal of flying the same rocket twice in a 24-hour period? Maybe, but it’s more likely to reach 20 flights of a booster first.

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