May 22, 2024

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SpaceX has now landed a larger number of booster rockets than most others ever launched

SpaceX has now landed a larger number of booster rockets than most others ever launched
Zoom in / SpaceX landed its 300th booster on Tuesday.

SpaceX webcast

SpaceX launches have become very routine. On Tuesday evening, SpaceX launched its 42nd rocket of the year, carrying another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit. Chances are you didn't even notice.

However, the cumulative numbers are staggering. SpaceX is now launching at a rate of one mission every 2.7 days this year. Consider that from the mid-1980s through the 2000s, the record for the total number of launches worldwide in any given year was 129. This year alone, SpaceX is on pace for 130 to 140 total launches.

But with Tuesday evening's mission, there was a unique number: 300. The Falcon family, which includes Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters, marked its 300th successful first-stage landing.

Recycle a lot of rockets

that it a lot Of the booster landings, remarkably, they all occurred in less than a decade. SpaceX was unable to successfully land its first Falcon 9 booster until the rocket's 20th overall flight. This happened with the ORBCOMM-2 mission on December 22, 2015, when the first stage booster returned to a pad near the launch site. The first landing of an unmanned ship occurred just over four months later.

During the lifetime of the fleet, SpaceX has landed about 85% of the Falcon rockets it has launched. These days, more than 90% of all missions are launched using previously launched boosters. So, recycling rockets is quite important.

There are two other ways to look at the significance of the number 300. The first way is in archival materials.

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Landing 300 rockets means SpaceX has reserved 2,700 Merlin rocket engines. In rough numbers, the dry mass of the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket is about 50 metric tons, so landing all of these rockets would have prevented 15,000 metric tons of metals and other materials from being dumped into the oceans — equivalent to the mass of about 100 residential homes.

Only a few missiles have been launched more than 300 times, and all of them are Russian. Many different Soyuz types have been launched over the years, with the Soyuz-U being the all-time champion with 786 launches, followed by the Cosmos-3M booster with 445 launches, and the Proton-K booster with 211 launches.

Among active rockets, there are really no competitors after the Falcon 9. The Russian Proton-M, which is nearing retirement, has 115 launches, the American Atlas V has 99 launches, and the Chinese Long March 2D has 89 launches. divorce.

Forever Falcon 9?

One fun game is to guess whether the Falcon 9 rocket has a chance of unseating the Soyuz booster as the fastest-flying rocket ever. In all its various incarnations and dating back to its debut in 1966, the Soyuz rocket has been launched more than 1,700 times. Nearly six decades later, this process is still ongoing, and Soyuz will likely continue to fly a dozen or so missions a year for most of the rest of this decade, if not beyond. Although the Russian space program repeatedly talks about replacing the Soyuz rockets with a newer line of rockets, such enhancements remain firmly on the drawing board.

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As for the Falcon 9 rocket, the booster rocket has been launched about 350 times so far. At this rate, it is expected to overtake Soyuz in the mid-2030s.

Of course, the Falcon 9 rocket will not continue at this rate. Sometime within the next year or two, SpaceX's larger Starship rocket will begin launching Starlink satellites. This will remove some demand for the Falcon 9, although the smaller booster will likely continue to fly for the foreseeable future, likely through at least the 2030s.