SpaceX launched its 20th Falcon 9 rocket of the year on Wednesday, and the booster lofting the Transporter-2 mission completed yet another successful flight to orbit.
This launch continues to cement the progress SpaceX has made toward the viable reuse of rocket first stages. This rocket core, named B1060, for booster number 1060, had previously flown into space seven times. Its first launch was a GPS III satellite mission for the US Space Force on June 30, 2020. With Wednesday’s flight, the rocket has now flown eight missions in a calendar year.
That is a rate of one mission every 1.5 months. However, since early January, this same rocket has flown five missions, so it is approaching a rapid cadence of one launch per month. This is unprecedented for the Falcon 9 rocket or any other orbital spacecraft in history. Each of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters, for example, typically only flew one to two times per year, needing significant refurbishment between each flight.
With the Falcon 9, by contrast, SpaceX has been able to learn from dozens of booster re-launches, and this has allowed the company to streamline the refurbishment needed between missions. “Work needed between flights is less & less, as shown by shortening time between reflights,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Twitter Wednesday.
The rapid reuse of the Falcon 9 rocket also makes for some stellar visuals. The Transporter-2 mission launched Wednesday carried several dozen small satellites, but the overall payload mass was low enough that the booster could carry enough fuel to return to a landing site near the launch site. This means our photographer, Trevor Mahlmann, was able to get excellent photographs of both the launch and landing.
Moreover, Mahlmann was able to compare what B1060 looked like a year ago, when he captured images of the GPS III launch, to what the booster looks like today. Sooty the rocket, we would say, has never looked better.
Listing image by Trevor Mahlmann