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SpaceX smashes its own record for rocket launches in a year

When it comes to SpaceX rocket launches, this year has been the busiest by a long way.

In 2020, for example, the commercial spaceflight company led by Elon Musk achieved a total of 26 launches, while last year it sent 31 rockets skyward, with all of the missions involving its dependable Falcon 9 rocket.

This year, however, SpaceX has achieved a whopping 61 missions — the final one of 2022 blasted off early Friday ET — all using the Falcon 9 except for a November launch that used its more powerful triple-booster Falcon Heavy rocket to deploy two U.S. Space Force satellites.

California-based SpaceX has clearly come a long way since its first cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012, a year in which it performed a mere two launches.

Besides deploying numerous satellites in low-Earth orbit for a range of customers, it also began operating regular crewed flights to and from the ISS in 2020, enabling NASA to launch its astronauts to space from U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Part of the reason SpaceX has been able to increase its launch frequency is due to the Falcon 9’s design, which enables the landing of the first stage so that it can be easily deployed for multiple missions. This allows SpaceX to focus on refurbishing a small fleet of rockets rather than having to build numerous single-use boosters at great cost.

To date, SpaceX has achieved 198 rocket launches, 159 booster landings, and 133 reflights.

With more customers looking to send small satellites into orbit, and SpaceX also using its spaceflight hardware to deploy large numbers of its Starlink internet satellites, 2023 looks set to be an even busier year for SpaceX.

Looking further ahead, SpaceX is also preparing for the first flight of its next-generation Super Heavy rocket and Starship spacecraft. A version of Starship is set to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface in just a few years from now in NASA’s Artemis III mission, and could even carry the first astronauts to Mars.

Starship is also set to carry passengers on the first all-civilian mission to the moon after Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought nine seats for the dearMoon mission that will involve a flyby of the lunar surface before returning home. The voyage is set for 2023, but delays in testing the Super Heavy rocket and Starship mean that SpaceX is likely to miss that date.

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