SpaceX breaks annual launch record with Starlink rideshare

SpaceX has successfully launched 48 more Starlink V1.5 satellites and two rideshare payloads, simultaneously breaking its record for annual launches and making Falcon 9 the most consecutively successfully flown rocket in Western history.

After a small one-day delay, Falcon 9 booster B1060 lifted off for the ninth time at 6:12 pm EST (23:12 UTC), likely missing the opportunity for a spectacular artificial rocket ‘nebula’ but just a few minutes. Nevertheless, Falcon 9 performed flawlessly, acing its ninth landing in 18 months and sending an expendable upper stage and about 14 metric tons (~31,000 lb) of satellites on their way to orbit. The second stage reached an initial parking orbit around nine minutes after launch and coasted for almost an hour before reigniting to insert its Starlink and Blacksky payloads into the correct orbit.

Almost exactly mirroring Blacksky’s first August 2020 Starlink rideshare mission, Falcon 9 first deployed the company’s two ~60 kg (~130 lb) Earth observation satellites around T+1:03. The second stage then gradually spun itself up end over end before releasing all 48 Starlink V1.5 satellites at once ~90 minutes after liftoff, marking the end of Falcon 9’s 101st consecutively successful orbital launch and SpaceX’s 27th launch of the year – new records for western spaceflight and the company, respectively.

Liftoff of Falcon 9 B1060.9 with Starlink 4-3. (SpaceX)
Touchdown on drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas (ASOG). (SpaceX)

As previously discussed on Teslarati, with Starlink 4-3, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 workhorse has become the first western rocket in history to surpass 100 consecutive launch successes, beating out McDonnell Douglas’ (and, later, ULA’s) Delta II rocket.

“As pointed out by a Teslarati reader, Starlink 4-3 could also see Falcon 9 become the first American rocket in history to successfully complete more than 100 orbital launches in a row, narrowly beating out McDonnell Douglas’ retired Delta II rocket for the title. Earlier this year, many outlets already reported that SpaceX’s May 26th Starlink-28 launch was its 100th consecutive launch. While true in a very literal sense, it ignores SpaceX’s infamous Amos-6 Falcon 9 failure, which occurred well before liftoff but still destroyed both the rocket and payload.

Only Russia’s R-7 (Soyuz) rockets – the most-launched rocket family in history – have successfully launched more times in a row. Since 1966, Soyuz rockets have launched more than 1900 times and the family has repeatedly completed 100 consecutively successful launches over its decades of operation. Eleven years after its debut, Falcon 9 currently stands at 127 fully successful launches – a lifetime away from matching Soyuz but still well on its way to a thoroughly impressive second place.”


Teslarati.com – December 1st, 2021

One deployed Blacksky satellite is visible just above the Starlink stack. (SpaceX)

SpaceX has also beaten its 2020 record of 26 launches completed in one year and still has at least three or four more launches planned in 2021 – potentially pushing the company past the 30-launch mark before the end of the year. Up next, SpaceX is scheduled to launch NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) no earlier than (NET) 1am EST (06:00 UTC), December 9th; Turkey’s Turksat 5B communications satellite NET 10:58 pm EST (3:58 UTC), December 18th; Cargo Dragon 2’s CRS-24 space station resupply mission NET 5:06 am EST (10:06 UTC), December 21st; and (potentially) Starlink 2-2 or 2-3 NET late December.

Eric Ralph: Eric Ralph is Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter and has been covering the industry in some capacity for almost half a decade, largely spurred in 2016 by a trip to Mexico to watch Elon Musk reveal SpaceX's plans for Mars in person. Aside from spreading interest and excitement about spaceflight far and wide, his primary goal is to cover humanity's ongoing efforts to expand beyond Earth to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere.
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