SpaceX’s record-breaking Falcon 9 booster returns to port

SpaceX’s latest record-breaking Falcon 9 booster is back in port after completing its 13th launch and landing.

The Falcon 9 B1060 first lifted off in June 2020 with the U.S. military’s third next-generation GPS III satellite safely in a payload fairing. Unlike the B1054, which the US Air Force asked SpaceX to spend after its first GPS III satellite launch, the military allowed the company to attempt to recover the B1060 booster. This successful first recovery would unknowingly pave the way for a future of firsts and an exceptionally productive career.

After the GPS III SV03, the B1060 occasionally supported commercial launches like Turkey’s Turksat 5A geostationary communications satellite and one of SpaceX’s own Transporter rideshare missions, but the booster was primarily assigned to Starlink launches. In early 2021, the booster broke SpaceX’s internal rotation record and spent just 27 days on the ground between its fourth and fifth launches – halving the record of 54 days set by NASA’s space shuttle, the only other orbital-class rocket that has ever been repeatedly reused.

B1060 alone has supported the launch of 550 Starlink satellites weighing over 150 metric tons (>330,000 lb). In total, he helped launch more than 640 satellites with a collective weight of around 165 tons. After its June 17 launch from Starlink 4-19, it also supported more orbital-class launches and landings – 13 – than any other Falcon booster, although the Falcon 9 B1051 and B1058 are close behind with 12 launches each.

The Falcon 9 B1060 rolls out to the LC-40 for its maiden launch. (SpaceX)
First successful landing of the B1060. (SpaceX)
13th landing of the B1060.

According to SpaceX engineers and senior executives who recently provided exclusive interviews to Aviation Week, the company no longer believes it will need to fly Falcon 9 boosters more than 15 times each, implying that Starship – a new generation, fully reusable rocket – will soon begin to take over. Once a Falcon 9 booster (now likely B1060) completes its 15th launch, SpaceX intends to retire it and perform thorough inspections. If the data collected is encouraging, it will certify all current and future Falcon boosters for 15 launches each.

It’s unclear if that 15-flight target is a hard cap or if exceptionally productive boosters like B1060, B1051 and B1058 will be allowed to continue pushing the boundaries of reuse on future Starlink missions. At their current launch rates, there’s a good chance that all three could complete 15 launches before the end of 2022. Slightly older and more temperamental, booster B1049 will be would have been spent after its eleventh launch later this year. If SpaceX’s plan is to completely remove the boosters from service after Flight 15, the company’s fleet of regularly flying boosters could drop from 12 to 8 by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

After B1060 returned to port on June 21, Falcon 9 booster B1061 sailed into port on SpaceX’s other east coast drone on June 22 after SpaceX launched Starlink 4-19 and Globalstar FM15 (the last B1061 mission) at 36 hour intervals the previous weekend. This kind of rapid rate of fire will likely become a regular occurrence in the second half of 2022 if SpaceX continues to launch on average once a week and the company shows no signs of slowing down.

(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)
Support ship Bob returns with three Falcon fairing halves. (Richard Angle)

SpaceX’s record-breaking Falcon 9 booster returns to port

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