SpaceX debuts upgraded drone ship with record-breaking rocket landing

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster has successfully completed five orbital-class launches and landings for the first time, marking the halfway point to the rocket's design goal. (SpaceX)

SpaceX has successfully launched and landed the same Falcon 9 booster five times for the first time ever while simultaneously debuting an upgraded drone ship formerly stationed on the West Coast.

With this launch under SpaceX’s belt, the company has fully proven that the March 2020 in-flight engine failure suffered during the inaugural fifth launch of a Falcon 9 was a fluke. Even more importantly, with Falcon 9 B1049.5 safely aboard drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI), SpaceX can now begin preparing for the booster’s sixth launch – a first for the company as it pushes towards a 10-flight goal.

Now passing the halfway point almost a little over 24 months after SpaceX debuted Falcon 9’s Block 5 upgrade, there is a strong chance that at least one booster – perhaps even B1049 – will either cross the 10-flight mark or get within a few launches of it by the end of the year. SpaceX has some 18 more launches nominally planned over the next 7 months, a number that doesn’t even include 14-18 additional Starlink launches targeted in 2020.

Falcon 9 B1049 streaks into the sky on its fifth orbital-class launch and third Starlink mission. (Richard Angle)

Just 15 minutes after liftoff and six minutes after Falcon 9 B1049’s record-breaking landing, the rocket’s second stage successfully deployed SpaceX’s eighth batch of 60 Starlink satellites, also the 7th batch of upgraded v1.0 spacecraft. With this launch complete, after a several-week period of orbit-raising, SpaceX will soon have ~475 operational satellites in its space-based internet constellation.

According to comments made by COO and President Gwynne Shotwell in a May 25th interview with Aviation Week’s Irene Klotz, SpaceX aims to complete 14 Starlink launches – ~840 satellites worth – before it starts to roll out Starlink internet service to customers around the world.

Given that SpaceX has another two Starlink missions planned in June alone, the company could easily cross the 14 launch mark in August or September, opening the constellation for an alpha, beta, or possibly even wider release by the end of Q3 2020. In typical SpaceX fashion, its record-breaking eighth Starlink launch and the start of a potential four-launch month has come four days after the company successfully launched astronauts into orbit for the first time, arguably the single most important mission in its 18-year history.

60 new Starlink satellites depart Falcon 9’s second stage and begin to spread out ahead of orbit-raising. (SpaceX)

Now with that historic launch safely behind SpaceX and a new, gently-used booster nearly back in the stable, the company can get back to tackling an extremely busy Starlink and commercial launch manifest over the next several months. Stay tuned!

The Starlink-8 webcast can be rewatched here.

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SpaceX debuts upgraded drone ship with record-breaking rocket landing
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