SpaceX achieved a historic milestone with the late-night launch of its Falcon 9 rocket carrying another batch of Starlink Internet satellites. This successful liftoff marked the 16th flight for the first-stage booster, setting a new record for the most flights by any SpaceX launch vehicle. Looking to the future, SpaceX has ambitious plans to fly its reusable Falcon 9 boosters up to 20 times, double the original target.

Prior to Sunday’s launch, the Falcon 9 booster underwent several months of rigorous inspections and refurbishment, including a crucial “recertification” process. This process aimed to prove that the booster could fly at least five more times after completing its 15th launch and landing in December last year. The recent mission demonstrated the booster’s resilience and ushered in its extended operational life.

Taking off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:58 pm EDT (03:58 UTC), the Falcon 9 rocket carried 22 second-generation Starlink satellites. The rocket’s powerful Merlin engines fired for approximately two and a half minutes, propelling it to the edge of space before detaching for a controlled descent onto one of SpaceX’s floating landing platforms northeast of the Bahamas.

Following the successful deployment of the Starlink payloads about an hour after liftoff, SpaceX’s global Internet network now boasts around 4,400 satellites in orbit, serving over 1.5 million subscribers worldwide.

SpaceX has ambitious plans to deploy thousands more Starlink satellites in the coming years, bolstering the network’s capacity and reach. With the Falcon 9’s impressive performance, the company continues to push the boundaries of space exploration.

Notably, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster, labeled B1058 in SpaceX’s inventory, made its debut during the company’s first-ever launch of astronauts in May 2020. Since then, the booster has undertaken 801 missions, including two astronaut flights, establishing itself as a pivotal component of SpaceX’s fleet.

As part of its drive for sustainability and cost-effectiveness, SpaceX engineers are certifying Falcon 9 boosters for up to 20 flights for Starlink missions. This enables the company to reuse boosters efficiently and maintain a high launch cadence, significantly reducing internal launch costs.

The Falcon 9’s remarkable achievements have solidified its position as a workhorse in the launch industry, enabling SpaceX to pursue even more ambitious goals. The company started the year with plans to complete 100 missions in 2023, making it the launch provider with the most flights in a single year.

While SpaceX continues to test its larger Starship vehicle, designed for faster launch cadence and full reusability, the main challenge for the company’s blistering launch rate lies in the turnaround time of its three Falcon 9 launch pads. Nevertheless, SpaceX’s dedication to innovation and sustainable space travel remains unwavering, ushering in a new era of space exploration.

By Impact Lab