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SpaceX just set a ridiculous record with its Falcon 9 rocket

Published May 11th, 2021 3:53PM EDT
falcon 9
Image: SpaceX

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SpaceX’s entire business model revolves around its ability to recover its hardware, refurbish it without much effort, and then use it again. Rockets are incredibly expensive, so any component that can be used again — like the pricey first stage booster — dramatically impacts the cost of each launch. The company spent a great deal of time and money perfecting the landing of its Falcon 9 boosters and that hard work has paid off in a big way. The most recent example of this is a booster that has flown not just twice or a few times, but a full 10 launches.

The rocket booster, designated B1051, launched on Sunday morning. Its mission was to deliver yet another batch of 60 Starlink satellites into Earth orbit. The mission was a success, and it marked the booster’s 10th time taking off from Earth. Not only that, but the booster did what it had already done nine times previous and performed a controlled landing on a SpaceX drone ship parked in the ocean.

B1051 is the first SpaceX booster to reach the 10-launch milestone. That’s not to say that the company’s previous boosters couldn’t have done the same, but SpaceX has at times chosen not to recover its boosters. Other times, the boosters were lost due to no fault of the rocket itself. Poor landing conditions at sea have claimed more than one Falcon 9, but B1051 is the first to have avoided any such pitfalls and log its 10th launch and landing.

It’s a big deal for SpaceX for a number of reasons. For one, B1051 has most certainly lived up to the company’s highest standards. Also, as Ars Technica notes, SpaceX boss Elon Musk has long been of the opinion that a 10-launch booster is a goal that the company should be shooting for. If SpaceX can make this incredible accomplishment seem like business as usual, it will be succeeding at producing reusable spacecraft hardware at a level that rivals NASA’s own Space Shuttle program.

In fact, B1051 trails only NASA’s four Space Shuttles in the number of flights it has completed successfully. That’s one heck of a feather in SpaceX’s cap, but the company hopes it will one day be the standard for its reusable rockets.

Being able to reuse a rocket many times over is also a huge advantage for a company that is in the midst of building its own satellite-based high-speed data network. The cost of launching 60 Starlink satellites is a lot more reasonable when you can reuse the same rocket 10+ times, with each launch adding another 60 satellites to the growing horde.

Now that B1051 has hit the 10-launch milestone it’s up to SpaceX to decide what to do with it. There’s a very good chance that the rocket booster will be retired and put on display, though there’s been no confirmation from SpaceX one way or the other.

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