Saturday, March 19, 2022

Falcon 9 Sets New Reuse Record

As mentioned in the lead up to last night's launch, the Starlink mission appeared completely routine like every other Starlink launch except for one thing.  The booster, numbered B1051, was flying its 12th flight.  It was only last May, 10 months ago, that the same booster recorded its 10th flight and became the first orbital-class rocket in history to be reused 10 times.  You will probably recall that for the first few years they were successfully landing and reusing boosters that 10 flights was a goal.  Only a few months earlier in March, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's VP of Build and Flight Reliability, said that they'd continue to inspect and keep an eye on the boosters after the 10th flight, adding, "don't think 10 is a magic number."  

The other thing worth noting is that this is the 11th Falcon 9 launch of the year in the 11th week of the year.  To my surprise, they report Starlink 4-12 was also the heaviest payload ever launched by a Falcon 9, weighing in around 16.25 metric tons or ~35,800 pounds.  I thought this load of Starlink satellites would weigh what the others weigh.  

The mission went without any announced hitches and B1051 successfully landed on Just Read The Instructions about 8-1/2 minutes after launch.  Unfortunately, they apparently lost a flood light on the deck of JRTI making it impossible to see the booster standing there.  It was the night of the full moon, though and the approach to landing offered a very bright and useful view of the drone ship seconds before landing. 

SpaceX's convention is to add a dashed number onto the booster number indicating its next flight.  That makes this B1051-13.  

Since no other company offering orbital launch services is reusing their boosters, the record of 12 successful missions will stand until the other experienced vehicles in their fleet achieve it.  Boosters B1058 and B1060 each have 11 flights and are presumably going to be going for #12 soon. 

I missed watching the launch.  It had rained with nearby lightning for a while last night, and I took the bet they wouldn't be able to complete preparations for last night's Falcon 9 launch in time and went to bed early.  Plus, if they had completed preparations, I'd bet we wouldn't have seen it due to clouds.  This morning, my YouTube feed said that they had launched and everything went well - except the launch was at 12:48 instead of 11:24, so I probably would have gone to bed before the launch anyway.

In my mind, the way it ought to be; a Falcon 9 launch in the distance while in the foreground, the booster from the launch a few days before is being transferred to the transporter truck to bring it back for refurbishment.  Although the image has a website name on it, I'm unable to find the image there.  I got it from the Twitter account of Michael Seeley taken and posted on March 3.

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