SpaceX carried out a twelfth mission in early May with the same Falcon 9 rocket. A record already obtained 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. The flight earlier this month carried a cluster of 53 Starlink satellites, still with a view to fleshing out the network of the company in orbit around the Earth. The mission was successful.
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 arguably the most remarkable mission of all, as it was the first-ever attempt to transport a crew to the ISS.
A technological bet that inspires Europe
If this is a record for SpaceX, it is not yet an absolute record: indeed, the success of the May 6 flight offers this first stage the opportunity to reach the same number of missions as another first stage, which also reached twelve flights, as of March 2022. In short, SpaceX finds itself with two segments which have each been operated twelve times.
This record of twelve rotations for the same first floor should not last very long. SpaceX wants these structures to serve dozens of times before being sent to retirement. We must measure the progress made by the group: it was only in 2014 that the American company succeeded for the first time in recovering the first floor of a Falcon 9 intact.
The first time, moreover, was on a barge deployed off the American coast. Then came the time of recovery on a firing point, inland. And finally in 2017, a new decisive step was taken: that of the reuse of this floor. In doing so, SpaceX achieved its goal of having a recoverable and partly reusable craft, with little maintenance between each shot.
Undeniably, SpaceX had flair with its launcher – which is also quite modular, since its heavy version, the Falcon Heavy, consists in fact of adding two first stages of the Falcon 9 launcher around a third, which will serve side boosters. Its technological gamble has been won, saving it in passing excessive operating costs.
Moreover, this approach is now considered much more seriously by the competition. If Ariane 5 is not reusable, while Ariane 6 will not be either, the next generation (Ariane Next) is likely to be. Efforts are already underway in Europe to catch up with SpaceX, with the Callisto and Themis programs. But it will take years.