SpaceX completed a twelfth mission in early May with the same Falcon 9 rocket. A record already achieved in March, but which was repeated in May.
This is a record for SpaceX. The first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket was used for the twelfth time on May 6, 2022. Earlier this month, the flight carried a cluster of 53 Starlink satellites, still aiming to expand the company’s network in Earth orbit. The mission succeeded.
Before this flight, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket had already been used 6 times for Starlink missions, but also for the Crew Demo-2, Anasis-II, CRS-21, Transporter-1 and Transporter-3 missions. Crew Demo-2 proves to be arguably the most remarkable mission of all, as it was the first ever attempt to transport a crew to the ISS.
A technological effort that inspires Europe
If this is a record for SpaceX, it is not yet an absolute record: the success of the flight on May 6 gives this first stage the opportunity to reach the same number of missions as another first stage that also reached twelve flights, as of March 2022. In short, SpaceX finds itself with two segments, each of which has been operated twelve times.
This record of twelve rotations for the same first stage should not last very long. SpaceX wants these structures to serve dozens of times before they are sent into retirement. We need to measure the group’s progress: It was only in 2014 that the American company managed to recover the first floor of a Falcon 9 intact for the first time.
Incidentally, the first time was on a barge deployed off the American coast. Then came the time for recovery at a shooting site inland. And finally, in 2017, a new decisive step was taken: the reuse of this floor. In doing so, SpaceX achieved its goal of having a recoverable and partially reusable craft with little maintenance between each launch.
SpaceX undeniably had flair with its launch vehicle – which is also quite modular, as its heavy version, the Falcon Heavy, actually consists of adding two first stages of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle around a third that will serve side boosters. Its technological venture has been won, saving it by passing excessive operating costs.
Moreover, this approach is now taken much more seriously by competitors. If Ariane 5 is not reusable, while Ariane 6 will not be either, the next generation (Ariane Next) probably will be. Efforts are already underway in Europe to catch up with SpaceX with the Callisto and Themis programs. But it will take years.