SpaceX Finally Crashes Falcon 9 Rocket In The Ocean After More Than A Year

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Keeping up with its rapid launch cadence in 2024, SpaceX launched yet another mission earlier today from Florida as part of a busy weekend with a Starlink launch due for tomorrow. Today’s launch was a rare one for SpaceX since it saw the firm not only fly a Falcon 9 rocket booster for the 20th time but also discard the rocket due to mission requirements.

The Falcon 9 uses nine Merlin 1D engines to generate thrust, and missions that fly higher, faster or further downrange than typical missions sometimes see the rocket use all of its fuel to meet the added requirements. Today’s launch was targeted to a medium earth orbit, and at stage separation, the Falcon 9 was flying higher than its altitude in a recent Starlink launch to low earth orbit.

SpaceX Uses Falcon 9 Booster For 20th Time To Launch European Satellite To MEO

Today’s mission marked SpaceX’s 42nd mission for the year, and it came more than a year after the firm crashed a rocket into the ocean. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is the world’s most reused rocket, and rapid turnaround times, coupled with robust refurbishment, have ensured a steady stream of quick flights that can take place quicker than it would have been the case had SpaceX chosen to make a new rocket for each mission.

Before meeting its end, the rocket launched 20 missions, most of which were for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet constellation. SpaceX chose to celebrate the rocket before its lift off, outlining that this booster had delivered 228 metric tons to space.

Apart from the 13 Starlink launches, other missions for the rocket include a ride share mission and a lunar lander for Intuitive Machines. As if this wasn’t enough, the Falcon 9 booster for the Galileo L12 mission for the European Commission also broke the “world record for orbital flight turnaround, twice,” according to SpaceX’s presenter for today’s broadcast.

SpaceX reuses not only its rocket boosters but also the fairings that protect the payload during flight. On the front, the latest Falcon 9 launch marked the 200th time that SpaceX reused the fairings. The Galileo satellites are part of the European Union’s bid to develop its own global satellite navigation system, and today’s launch also saw the European Commission request SpaceX to not broadcast the satellite deployment part of the mission.

Such blackouts are common for national security launches, particularly those by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in the U.S., and they typically serve to preserve the secrecy of the satellite’s final destination.

The booster’s 20th flight was the second time that a Falcon 9 rocket met the remarkable milestone, but this won’t be the limit for SpaceX’s rockets. While initially, the firm was hesitant to certify its rockets for more than 15 missions, SpaceX’s launch presenter, Youmei Zhou, shared that her firm was “working towards qualifying our fleet of Falcon boosters and fairings to support 40 missions each.”

According to Zhou, the previous time SpaceX expended a Falcon 9 was 146 flights ago in November 2022. However, other missions have seen SpaceX expend its Falcon Heavy boosters, with one such mission taking place in October 2023.

Today’s launch will be followed by a Starlink launch tomorrow to ensure that SpaceX keeps a steady stream of flights as it heads to the fourth Starship test flight in May. Starship is central to SpaceX’s plans to conduct crewed missions to Mars, build out its Starlink internet satellite constellation and enable NASA to establish a presence on the Moon.

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