SpaceX Falcon 9 Completes 301st Mission By Landing For 19th Time

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With the momentum slowly building for the third Starship test launch in Texas, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is continuing to set new records. While it is significantly smaller than Starship, the Falcon 9 is the only medium lift orbital rocket in the U.S. capable of reuse. Spacex’s latest mission that set 22 Starlink satellites into orbit from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California marked yet another mission that saw the first stage Falcon 9 booster fly and land 19 times in its service life While SpaceX had initially planned to certify the rocket for 15 missions each, this tally has now increased and the next record setting Falcon 9 launch might see a booster take off for the 20th time.

SpaceX Crosses 300 Falcon 9 Launches Without A Hitch As It Develops The World’s Biggest Rocket In Texas

SpaceX’s latest launch, which took 22 Starlink satellites to space, was a routine affair that saw the rocket lift off from California close to midnight Eastern time yesterday. It marked a growing cadence of launches from the West Coast, along with being the 17th SpaceX mission this year. The launch was also SpaceX’s 311th to date, cementing the status of the Falcon 9 as the California based rocket company’s workhorse vehicle.

SpaceX’s previous Falcon 9 mission was for an Indonesian state owned telecommunications company, and as opposed to Starlink launches that send payloads to low Earth orbit (LEO), it sent the satellite into a geosynchronous orbit. Since SpaceX provides media coverage to partner firms, the Indonesian satellite mission also saw the firm share post launch that it marked the Falcon 9’s 300th successful mission to date.

Not only is the Falcon 9 responsible for sending satellites to space, but it is also the only American rocket capable of meeting NASA requirements for crewed launches. The SpaceX agency regularly sends astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Falcon 9, and it also uses the reusable rocket to send cargo to the station.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 starts its 300th mission earlier this month in Florida. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX’s refurbishment process for the Falcon 9 uses established checkpoints during a booster’s life to run maintenance. One of the biggest weaknesses of the Falcon 9 regarding reusability stems from its fuel choice. The rocket uses Rocket Propellant 1 (RP-1), or kerosene, which produces sticky soot when the propellant burns inside its combustion chamber. This covers some of the engine’s components with the exhaust by product, and during refurbishment, SpaceX has to clean the engine to certify it for flight.

The Falcon 9’s latest Starlink launch – the rocket’s 301st successful mission to date, also saw SpaceX use a Merlin engine on the rocket for the 22nd time on a mission. As compared to the Raptor engines for SpaceX’s Starship rocket, the Merlin has proven to be very reliable both during testing and operations. It also has one of the highest thrust to weight ratios in the industry, an achievement helped by SpaceX’s choice to use super chilled and densified propellants on its rocket. A higher thrust to weight ratio means a more efficient engine that is able to punch many times above its literal weight during flight.

After completing the 301st successful mission, SpaceX’s booster for the launch landed for the 19th time to become yet another booster to set a new record. Given SpaceX’s planned rocket launches for 2024, the next couple of milestones to be on the watch out for the Falcon should be the 20th reuse of a rocket (should SpaceX feel comfortable) and the 300th landing of an orbital class rocket booster, which should come after 23 launches following yesterday’s mission which also marked the 276th orbital class rocket recovery.

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