Starlink Launch Puts SpaceX on Track to Obliterate Rocket Record
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SpaceX will break its own record for most launches in a calendar year with its next Falcon 9 mission.
Why it matters
Elon Musk's company has set the bar high for launch cadence and rocket recycling in the new age of commercial spaceflight.
Elon Musk's rocket company has launched an increasing number of its workhorse Falcon 9 rockets nine out of the past 10 years. But in 2022, SpaceX is set to obliterate its own launch record set last year, when it conducted 31 launches.
Now the company plans to surpass that mark as soon as Thursday morning.
A routine launch of 53 Starlink broadband satellites on Sunday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida was the 31st successful mission of this calendar so far, meaning SpaceX has been pulling off more than a launch per week on average and is on pace for more than 50 launches by the end of the year.
Musk has said he hoped to see a Falcon 9 rocket able to complete a mission and be readied for its next launch within days or even hours. Instead, individual boosters typically are spelled and refurbished over a period of several weeks or months before their next mission, but SpaceX has still managed to set the standard for rocket recycling and launch cadence in a new era of commercial spaceflight.
Even as Falcon 9 launches are a more frequent occurrence than before, Musk is now driving toward making his prolific fliers obsolete. Much of the billionaire's focus has been on getting his next-generation Starship into space. The huge vehicle is designed to ferry NASA astronauts to the moon and perhaps eventually Mars, as well as carry bigger batches of Starlinks to orbit as Musk hurries to build out his global broadband constellation of thousands of satellites.
Watch this: 'Launching three times a day': Elon Musk's Starship update explained
SpaceX recently cleared a major regulatory hurdle for the first orbital test flight of Starship, which could happen sometime in the next few months.
Meanwhile, many more Falcon 9 launches are slated for the second half of 2022, including Thursday's Starlink mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base north of Los Angeles and another on Sunday from Florida. In addition to regular Starlink launches, Falcon 9 boosters are also set to launch several other commercial and government satellites, send a lander to the surface of the moon, take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, and carry a group of civilians to orbit on billionaire Jared Isaacman's second trip to space.
We could also see even more Falcon 9 boosters launch in the Falcon Heavy formation, which essentially involves three of the boosters strapped together for particularly large payloads. A trio of heavy military missions for the US Space Force are also on the SpaceX launch manifest for the coming months.
The next chance to see Falcon 9 break its own record is Thursday at 10:13 a.m. PDT, when another batch of Starlinks will leave this world. The mission will be streamed live via YouTube starting about 10 minutes before launch.