SpaceX launched and then recovered a Falcon 9 rocket for the fifteenth time this Saturday, December 17, extending the company’s reuse record. This launch was intended to deliver a new salvo of Starlink satellites.
New record for Falcon 9
Falcon 9 took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday at 22:32 Paris time. The rocket’s first stage returned to Earth just under nine minutes later and landed on the platform. Just read the instructions“, still stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. It was fifteenth mission for this one and the same booster.
Meanwhile, the rocket’s upper stage continued on its way to delivery 54 new Starlink satellites into low earth orbit approximately 15.5 minutes after launch. The company already has more than 3,500 of these structures in orbit so far, but that’s just the beginning. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently granted approval to 7,500 new generation satellites. These will be launched by the Starship when it is operational.
It was also SpaceX’s third launch in two days. On Friday, December 16, a Falcon 9 launched the SWOT observation satellite on behalf of NASA and CNES from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. It will aim to map the Earth’s water in unprecedented detail and openly share the data to help communities manage this precious resource.
That same day, the twilight of two commercial SES satellites, called O3b mPower 1 and 2, created a particularly bright jellyfish-like plume in the night sky, visible to lucky astronomers hundreds of kilometers away. These satellites were launched from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 at 23:48 (Paris time).
— Ed Piotrowski (@EdPiotrowski) 16 December 2022
Importance of recovery at sea
SpaceX began recovering its rockets at sea in 2016. Without this technically more complicated water landing capability, SpaceX would never have been able to offer these services to challenge the competition.
In fact, let’s remember that a rocket gradually tilts during a launch, going from a vertical to a horizontal orientation as it prepares to release its second stage. At this point, it takes tons of fuel to reverse course and return to the launch site. Thus, to save money, it is much more interesting to follow a parabolic arc to land on the sea, hundreds of kilometers from the launch site. If SpaceX didn’t land its boosters this way, the company would have eliminated almost half of its lifting capacitywhich would have caused it to lose the inherent advantages of recycling its rockets.