SpaceX sent a military GPS satellite into space Tuesday afternoon for the US Space Force using a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
This is the company's third launch since itson May 30, and for the first time it has landed and recovered one of its rockets after lifting a military satellite towards orbit. The Falcon 9 first stage landed on the droneship Just Read The Instructions eight minutes after launch. SpaceX also reported it was able to recover both halves of the fairing, or nose cone, for reuse on a future mission.
The mission is the company's 11th launch of 2020. Continuing this intense pace of launches would allow Elon Musk's commercial space startup to pretty easily set a company record for most launches in a year.
The company launched another military GPS satellite in 2018. At the time, the US Air Force determined that SpaceX would not be able to perform the needed flight trajectory and also land the first-stage booster, according to SpaceNews.
Since then, SpaceX and the US military have negotiated changes in its GPS mission requirements and the cost of launch to enable SpaceX to recycle the booster.
The Falcon 9 booster used during launch today was brand new and this was its first mission. Two previous launches in June utilized boosters that had previously been flown. On Tuesday, the booster (designed B1060) successfully landed on the Just Read The Instructions droneship, around 10 minutes after launching.
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SpaceX had also scheduled its second Starlink ride-share mission for last week, but the launch was postponed, with July 8 as the new targeted launch date.
"Team needed additional time for prelaunch checkouts, but Falcon 9 and the satellites are healthy," SpaceX tweeted a couple of hours before the scheduled launch time on Friday.
SpaceX had its most active year so far in 2018 with 21 launches. It's now on pace to eclipse that mark in 2020, perhaps hitting 38 launches for the year if its plans pan out. The company hopes to continue packing its calendar with more liftoffs, aiming for 70 missions in 2023, according to a draft filing with the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year.
Many of the launches will be Starlink missions, as SpaceX looks to put tens of thousands of its small satellites in orbit this decade. The company has also begun, making room for a few commercial payloads alongside a batch of Starlink birds.
The next Starlink launch is set to be the second Starlink ride share, this time with two Earth-observing microsatellites for Black Sky, a company that provides high-def satellite imagery.
SpaceX is trying expand the size of its growing constellation to nearly 600 satellites and closer to the threshold of 800 flying routers that.