For the first time, SpaceX has sent a Falcon 9 rocket booster on its 10th flight, marking an important milestone in rocket reusability. The company launched the rocket early this morning with a first stage booster that has previously flown on the historic first demonstration mission of the Crew Dragon capsule, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, the SXM-7 launch, and six previous Starlink missions.
The launch went ahead at 2:42 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The rocket was carrying a further batch of 60 Starlink satellites to be added to the SpaceX constellation. The aim is for a network of Starlink satellites to eventually provide global broadband internet access, with certain users in particular countries currently able to use a beta version of the network.
SpaceX tweeted out a video of the booster in action:
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 9, 2021
The milestone of 10 flights from one booster is significant as it has been SpaceX’s long-standing goal for booster reuse. By reusing first stages, SpaceX plans to make its rocket launches more affordable. While early in its attempts to create a reusable rocket, the company struggled with catching the first stage as it came back to Earth — many boosters end up falling off ships or dropping into the ocean — the company now reliably catches the large majority of its boosters. When a booster comes back to Earth, typically in the Atlantic Ocean, it is caught by a drone ship that is stationed in the area.
The booster from today’s launch was caught by the droneship Just Read The Instructions, and it could potentially go on to be used even more times. In addition, other parts of the rocket from today’s launch were also reused, like both halves of its fairing which were previous used for the GPS III Space Vehicle 04 mission.
According to NASA Space Flight, SpaceX has become so adept at catching and reusing first stages that it rarely needs to use new boosters any more. Although the company does still manufacture first stages, it mostly reuses existing boosters, and has not needed to use a new booster yet this year.
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