Thursday, June 17, 2021

Today's Falcon 9 Mission Was a Milestone

Today's Falcon 9 mission to launch the fifth GPS III satellite (GPS III SV05 - SV for Space Vehicle) broke the last major symbolic barrier in reuse of previously flown rockets.  It's the first time a US military national security mission has flown on a previously flown booster.  

Just to point out how careful they are about such missions, let me remind you that NASA has already flown astronauts on one; the Crew-2 mission back in April launched both a previously used booster and Crew Dragon capsule.   I've always thought human spaceflight was the most cautious group.  As we might have expected, the first customers to allow already flown boosters were satellite operators.  NASA manned spaceflight was second.  The acceptance by the military means that SpaceX’s reusability has been officially validated by every major American customer and institution.

The booster, B1062, took its first flight in November of 2020 and its payload was the predecessor of this satellite, SV04.  The satellite is safely in orbit, B1062 stuck the landing, and was prepared for its next mission.  Today its second flight launched SV05; again, the satellite is safely in orbit and B1062 stuck the landing (although the Bulgarian judge only awarded a 9 instead of the full 10).

The Bulgarian judge said something about engine not being over the middle of the X in the 10 ring. 

I should add the context that the agreement to allow previously flown boosters was signed before last November's GPS III SV04 mission, an agreement affecting this flight and SV06.  Space Force agreed to allow the GPS III satellites to be launched into a different orbital perigee, enabling a drone ship recovery attempt.  In return for this accommodation, SpaceX agreed to some additional spacecraft requirements for future missions and saved the US government $52 million.

Over at Ars Technica, Eric Berger tells this story:

A few years ago, one of SpaceX's earliest employees, Hans Koenigsmann, told me that one of the company's goals was to take the "magic" out of rocket launches. It's just physics, he explained.

As its Falcon 9 rocket has become more reliable and flown more frequently—18 launches so far this year and counting—it seems that SpaceX has succeeded in taking the magic out of launches. And while reliability should definitely be the goal, such regularity does distract from the spectacle of watching a rocket launch.

As he points out, this was the 19th launch of the year, but didn't mention it was the 88th successful Falcon booster recovery.  While it is getting fairly routine to watch the launches of Falcon 9s, it's like watching a jumbo jet take off.  It's pretty and worth watching in its own right.  At the other extreme, watching rockets land on a pillar of flame hasn't gotten boring.  At least to me. 


  1. Well, to me, watching planes take off is still amazing. So watching rocket launches become 'common' will still be amazing, for forever.

    The neighbors think I'm a loon because I watch the planes and helicopters flitting about like I'm 6 years old.

    Same with watching trains.

    And something that's not mentioned by SpaceX launching DoD and NatSec loads on previously-flown rockets is that that means SpaceX has totally flogged the dogsnot out of ULA, which is facing, come 2022, the inability to launch any Gov flights on their rockets using foreign-sourced motors or parts, which is why Blue Origins has totally hosed ULA with their slowrolling of the BE-4 motor.

    Unless, somehow, Congress changes the laws regarding foreign stuff powering US launches. Which I suspect is coming in the next 4 months as the panic over the looming deadline, with Musk and SpaceX chuckling savagely on the sidelines, builds and builds.

    SpaceX. Doing more for less than any other launcher in the world.

    ULA's management must be considering seppuku by now. Or taking up basejumping without parachutes.

  2. I have been a commercial pilot since 1976 and I'm still amazed every time the contraption I'm flying manages to get into the air. It never gets old.