In a surprise twist, SpaceX’s 18th Starlink v1.0 mission could mark the first time a Falcon 9 booster rocket launches twice in one month.
Currently scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) 1:19 am EST (06:19 UTC), Thursday, February 4th, Starlink-18, reliable source Next Spaceflight believed that SpaceX had assigned Falcon 9 booster B1059 to the mission, representing a quick but precedented six-week turnaround from its last launch. However, SpaceX’s routine launch preview unexpectedly revealed that Falcon 9 B1060 – not B1059 – was scheduled to launch Starlink-18.
Starlink-18 will be Falcon 9 B1060’s fifth launch since it debuted in June 2020, managing an impressive average of one launch every six weeks or almost nine launches per year. However, far more significantly, B1060 is scheduled to launch Starlink-18 just 28 days after its last launch on January 7th.
While both launches aren’t literally scheduled within the same calendar month, B1060 – barring delays – will become the first Falcon 9 booster to launch twice in four weeks, equivalent to launching twice in any month of the year. Unsurprisingly, two launches in 28 days will be a new record for both SpaceX and all operational rockets, beating the previous record (37 days) by almost 25% and almost halving NASA’s 54-day record for Space Shuttle orbiter reuse.
Technically, B1060 took another six days to be brought back to port, processed for transport, and moved to a SpaceX hangar In other words, SpaceX teams likely had less than 20 days to inspect the Falcon 9 booster and complete any necessary repairs before it had to be ready to mate with the second stage and payload and roll out to the launch pad.
Unfortunately, Starlink-18 was meant to be one of a pair of Starlink launches tentatively planned within the same four-hour period after Starlink-17 slipped several days into February, but SpaceX announced earlier today that that Starlink-17 had slipped further still to Friday, February 5th. This is the first time that two Starlink missions could launch out of numerical order. If schedules hold, Starlink-18 and Starlink-17 could still launch less than 30 hours apart.
Tune in at the webcast below for live coverage of Falcon 9 B1060’s record-breaking launch attempt around 1:05 am EST (06:05 UTC).