SpaceX Falcon 9 set for second shot at rocket reusability record [webcast]

SpaceX's next Starlink launch is scheduled just over 24 hours from now and will be assisted by the first all-women weather crew in the history of US launch operations. (Richard Angle)

For the second time ever, a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is set to launch for the fifth time, supporting the company’s sixth Starlink satellite launch this year and offering a second opportunity to secure a big rocket reusability record.

Somehow less than three months ago, Falcon 9 booster B1048 lifted off for the fifth time, becoming the first SpaceX rocket to do so since the company began reusing boosters in March 2017 and debuted Falcon 9’s 10-flight Block 5 upgrade in May 2018. Two years after Block 5’s debut, SpaceX has built 14 of the boosters – four for Falcon Heavy – and they’ve successfully completed 31 launches and 29 landings. Unfortunately, although B1048’s fifth launch was technically a success, the booster suffered SpaceX’s first in-flight engine failure in ~8 years.

SpaceX’s Starlink-8 launch will be streamed live starting around 9:05 pm EDT (01:05 UTC).
Falcon 9 B1049 lifted off for the fourth time with a batch of 60 Starlink satellites on January 7th and is now set to fly again on June 3rd. (Richard Angle)

While B1048 was able to account for that engine shutdown on the fly, expending extra propellant meant for its reentry and landing burns to ensure that its payload of 60 Starlink satellites could still reach orbit, that correction removed the possibility of a successful landing. As a result, SpaceX has technically launched a booster five times but it has yet to launch and land a booster five times.

Now scheduled to launch no earlier than 9:25 pm EDT, June 3rd (01:25 UTC, June 4), SpaceX’s eight 60-satellite Starlink mission will see Falcon 9 B1049 become the second booster to launch five times, providing another opportunity to set the record for orbital-class booster landings.

If successful, B1049’s fifth launch and landing will set the booster up to become the first SpaceX rocket to fly six times (and hopefully seven or more beyond that), making it the company’s fleet leader after B1048’s failed March 2020 landing attempt destroyed the booster before it could be crowned. Impressively, according to comments recently made by SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell, the condition of Falcon 9 Block 5 boosters after multiple orbital-class launches and landings is so encouraging that she believes each booster should be able to fly more than 10 times each.

Falcon 9 B1051 completed its fourth launch and landing on April 22nd. (Richard Angle)

The first double-digit booster could come much sooner than later thanks to SpaceX’s ambitious Starlink launch schedule and the small fleet of rockets it’s likely to have for the rest of the year. In June alone, SpaceX has three Starlink launches and its second US military GPS III satellite mission planned, one of which will likely see Falcon 9 B1051 become the third booster to complete five launches. With as many as 18 additional launches scheduled in the next seven months, B1049 or B1051 could easily be up to 7, 8, 9, or even 10 flights by the end of 2020.

Regardless, tune in around 9:05 pm EDT (01:05 UTC) to watch SpaceX’s 8th Starlink launch live.

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