SpaceX Falcon 9 booster set to beat rocket turnaround record by a huge margin

Pictured here barely a month ago, Falcon 9 booster B1051 is about to crush SpaceX and the world's most important rocket reuse record. (Richard Angle)

The Falcon 9 booster assigned to SpaceX’s first Starlink launch of the new year is on track to become the world’s most rapidly reusable rocket as early as Monday, January 18th.

Prior to 2020, SpaceX’s Block 5 booster turnaround record – referring to the time between two launches of the same rocket – happened to be set by two Falcon Heavy side boosters after they supported two of the rocket’s three total launches in just 74 days. In mid-2018, a pre-Block 5 Falcon 9 booster technically made it slightly further, flying twice in 71 days. While impressive, the speed of SpaceX’s Falcon Block 5 booster reuse remained firmly behind NASA’s Space Shuttle, the only operational orbital-class reusable rocket prior to Falcon.

Space Shuttle Discovery is pictured after completing its STS-120 mission in 2007. (NASA)

While already dramatically more cost-effective and labor-efficient than the Space Shuttle’s extraordinarily involved refurbishment process, SpaceX’s established turnaround time capabilities would begin to take huge steps forward in 2020. In July, the inevitable finally happened when a Falcon 9 booster launched for the second time in just 51 days, beating NASA’s longstanding Space Shuttle turnaround record of 54 days.

Falcon 9 booster B1060 achieved the same 51-day turnaround feat just three months later, proving that B1058’s record wasn’t a mere fluke. Ultimately, over the course of 2020, each flown Falcon 9 booster – excluding turnaround outliers greater than 200 days – averaged ~85 days between launches.

B1058 set the current world record when it launched ANASIS II just 51.08 days after sending Crew Dragon and two NASA astronauts on their way to orbit. (Richard Angle)

Now, on the second of dozens of SpaceX launches planned in 2021, the company is set to obliterate the turnaround world record set by Falcon 9 less than six months prior. Originally scheduled to launch on January 17th, SpaceX delayed the Starlink-16 (V1 L16) mission to 8:45 am EST (13:45 UTC), January 18th for unspecified reasons. Around the same time that delay became clear, Next Spaceflight was first to report that SpaceX had assigned Falcon 9 booster B1051 to the launch.

Last flown for the seventh time on December 13th, Falcon 9 B1051 is now scheduled to attempt its eighth orbital-class launch and landing just 36 days later, beating the 51-day world record by almost a third (~30%) and simultaneously becoming the first Falcon booster to launch eight times. If successful, SpaceX’s Falcon rockets will be mere days away from demonstrating monthly reusability.

Tune in tomorrow morning to catch SpaceX’s latest record-breaking rocket launch live.

Eric Ralph: I write about space, among other things.
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