SpaceX has launched its Falcon 9 rocket for the 200th time.
Measuring 70 meters (230 ft) tall and 3.7 meters (12 ft) wide, the 200th Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from SpaceX’s Vandenberg Space Force Base SLC-4E pad on January 31st, 2023. Beyond the statistical milestone, the Starlink 2-6 mission was a mostly ordinary launch of SpaceX’s own internet satellites.
However, SpaceX removed a pair of 310-kilogram (~680 lb) Starlink V1.5 satellites to make room for an ION orbital transfer vehicle (space tug) built by Italian space logistics company D-Orbit. ION SCV009 was fitted with four hosted payloads [PDF]: a solar sail designed to speed up satellite deorbiting, a prototype of a satellite deployment mechanism, a computer developed by Swiss students, and a memorial payload carrying cremated human remains.
About an hour after liftoff, Falcon 9 deployed ION SCV009. A batch of 49 Starlink satellites followed twenty minutes later, successfully completing Falcon 9’s 200th launch.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket debuted in June 2010, twelve and a half years ago. Considering that the company’s only prior experience was with a highly unreliable rocket about a magnitude smaller, Falcon 9 got off to an impressive start, suffering just one partial failure in its first five years of operation. A two-year period of pain followed when Falcon 9 suffered its one and only in-flight failure in June 2015 and a catastrophic explosion on the ground in September 2016.
However, since SpaceX returned its workhorse rocket to flight in January 2017, it hasn’t failed once. Starlink 2-6 was Falcon 9’s 177th consecutively successful launch – the most of any rocket in history. Against all odds, Falcon 9 has achieved that unprecedented reliability while simultaneously being the only partially-reusable orbital-class rocket in operation. Starlink 2-6 also marked SpaceX’s 93rd consecutively successful Falcon booster landing and 138th launch of a reused Falcon booster. Few rockets in history can claim to have launched 93 times without failure.
Fewer still have launched 200 times total or 199 times successfully. Depending on how one classifies similar variants, perhaps just half a dozen of the 100+ orbital rockets developed in the history of spaceflight have launched 200 times or more. It’s unlikely that SpaceX’s Falcon rocket family will ever come close to variants of certain Soviet-era rockets, one of which has flown almost 800 times, but it’s likely also true that it will be decades before another modern rocket comes close to matching Falcon.
SpaceX executives have made it clear that the company eventually wants to replace its partially-reusable Falcon rockets with Starship, a more capable fully-reusable rocket still in development, but Falcon is far from done. Falcon 9 took ten and a half years to complete its first 100 launches. The next 100 took a little over two years. SpaceX’s launch cadence continues to accelerate in the meantime. If the company gets its way, Falcon 9 could launch for the 300th time in the first half of 2024.
For the second time in a row, Starlink 2-6 was SpaceX’s seventh launch in one month. February could be even busier. SpaceX is set to kick off the second month of the year with another Starlink launch as early as the 2nd.