SpaceX Successfully Launches German Radar Satellite From California

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With six days left to go before the year ends, SpaceX has now launched 94 rockets since January after launching a radar reconnaissance satellite for the German Ministry of Defence. The launch marked SpaceX’s 182nd consecutive landing of an orbital class rocket booster through its workhorse Falcon 9 medium-lift rocket. After today’s launch, the next one SpaceX’s manifest is of three Falcon 9s bulked together as part of the Falcon Heavy System.

SpaceX Flies Falcon 9 Rocket Booster For 8th Time After Previously Setting New Rocket Reusability Record

Compared to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite launches, which typically see the Falcon 9’s first stage land on a drone ship, other launches involving higher orbits see the rocket land on the ground. These landings typically occur at the landing pads on the West Coast, and generally, SpaceX saves fuel on the rocket when it lands it on a drone ship instead.

Within two decades after its founding at the turn of the millennium, SpaceX has successfully recovered 256 medium-lift rocket boosters and landed 182 of these consecutively to date. Over this time, the Merlin engines that power the 229-foot-tall rocket have also evolved. They have improved the Falcon 9’s fuel efficiency by allowing SpaceX to use leftover fuel after stage separation to fly the launch vehicle further back for a land landing.

While 2023 has seen SpaceX become the world’s first company to launch 100 rockets in 365 days, the year’s close marks a shift in the landscape of the aerospace launch vehicle industry. Proven and unproven rocket companies are preparing to build larger rockets capable of delivering heavier payload to orbit than the Falcon 9. Companies such as Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance (ULA), with either comfortable financial resources or proven launch experiences, are developing heavy-lift rockets in anticipation of a significant pickup in demand for launch services.

SpaceX
SpaceX

SpaceX’s previous launch last week was the first time a company in human history landed a single rocket booster 19 consecutive times. The Falcon 9 last failed a landing attempt in 2021, and back then, SpaceX was comfortable flying the rocket a maximum of ten times. In 2021, the maximum number of times that a single Falcon 9 rocket had landed was nine, and the failure came a couple of months after SpaceX successfully became the first company in the world capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX is also among the few companies in the world that have integrated rocket reusability into their fundamental design approach. All rockets it currently flies or is designed to fly are fully reusable. In particular, the second-stage Starship spacecraft of SpaceX’s Starship Super Heavy launch vehicle system intends to be the world’s first second-stage rocket capable of a propulsive landing.

Starship, currently being developed in Boca Chica, Texas, is the world’s biggest rocket that has successfully taken off and achieved stage separation. Its thrust is greater than NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with the second stage in particular carrying the potential to disrupt the deep space observation and exploration missions market.

Operational rockets in 2023 are limited by their second stage, which is the least powerful portion of a launch vehicle. Industry cost prohibitions have rarely incentivized rocket manufacturers to invest in heavier second stages. With the Starship second stage, SpaceX can command a significant share of global governmental and private missions to planets.

The next Falcon rocket launch is scheduled to take place on December 28th. This is a special mission for the U.S. Space Force’s USSF-52 mission. The launch attempt will come after a two-week delay, and it will see the world’s lightest robotic orbital spacecraft, Boeing’s X-37B, take to the skies.

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