SpaceX eyes several Falcon 9 reusability firsts on 25th launch this year

SpaceX says that it’s successfully static fired its second-most flight-proven Falcon 9 booster ahead of the company’s 25th launch this year, potentially marking several reusability firsts.

SpaceX’s routine static fire tweet confirmed that a Falcon 9 rocket is now ready to support the launch of Sirius XM’s SXM-7 radio satellite no earlier than (NET) 11:20 am EST (UTC-5), Friday, December 11th. A follow-up tweet further confirmed that Falcon 9 booster B1051 – the second to ever complete six orbital-class launches and landings – is scheduled to support the mission on its seventh flight less than three weeks after Falcon 9 B1049 became the first to do so.

Falcon 9 booster B1051 lifts off from Pad 39A with 60 new Starlink satellites on its sixth flight. (SpaceX)

Further, SpaceX says that its SXM-7 launch will reuse half of the payload fairing first flown (and first caught) in July, making SXM-7 the first commercial launch ever to feature (part of) a flight-proven fairing. Impressively, the fact that launch customer and satellite manufacturer Maxar has signed off on the use of a flight-proven Falcon fairing essentially confirms that SpaceX has been fully successful in its fairing recovery and reuse efforts.

Pictured on their decks shortly after returning to port, one of the two fairing halves caught by Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief on July 20th will be flown again on SXM-7. (Richard Angle)

For reasons both essential and traditional, most modern satellites are built inside certified cleanroom facilities, spending the entirety of their suborbital lives – launch included – in meticulously controlled environments. That expectation of extreme cleanliness extends inside the launch vehicle fairing, posing a major hurdle for any attempt to reuse those fairings on similar missions. SpaceX has sidestepped the challenge of fairing contamination by simultaneously building its own Starlink satellites to tolerate a less than surgical environment inside a fairing and working to perfect fairing catches.

By catching fairings in giant shipborne nets, SpaceX aimed to avoid a vast majority of the contamination caused by recovering fairing halves from the ocean surface. Maxar’s acceptance of exactly that kind of caught fairing half on a commercial satellite launch all but confirms that SpaceX has found a cost-effective solution for commercial-grade fairing reuse, likely giving willing customers yet another way to cut the cost of launch in the near future.

Meanwhile and even more significantly, SXM-7 will also mark the first time that SpaceX has reused a four-, five-, or six-flight Falcon 9 booster on a fully commercial launch. That surprising leapfrog means that at least one major satellite manufacturer, satellite operator, and launch insurer has become so confident in SpaceX booster reuse that any perceived risk added by jumping from a three-flight to a six-flight booster pales in comparison to the (still fairly minor) cost of waiting a month or two for a less-flown Falcon 9.

B1051 sails back to port on October 21st after its sixth successful launch. (Richard Angle)

Adding to the pile of milestones, Falcon 9 booster B1051 will have spent just 54 days between its sixth and seventh flights if SXM-7 launches on time, making it the third fastest turnaround in SpaceX history. In other words, SpaceX will prove that six-flight Falcon boosters are just as fast and easy to refurbish as boosters with just two (B1058) or three (B1060) flights under their belt.

SpaceX eyes several Falcon 9 reusability firsts on 25th launch this year
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