As SpaceX closes out a halcyon year, today marks the fifth anniversary of the first Falcon booster landing and the company is celebrating with record-breaking streak of success.
SpaceX completed its last launch and landing on December 19th, delivering a mysterious US spy satellite to low Earth orbit (LEO) while Falcon 9 booster B1059 returned to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) for its fifth successful recovery in 12 months. Known as NROL-108, the mission was SpaceX’s 26th of the year, crushing its previous record of 21 launches by almost 25%.
Aside making Falcon 9 the world’s most-launched rocket of 2020 and demonstrating over a full quarter that an annual cadence of 40+ launches is well within SpaceX’s reach, NROL-108 also marked an impressive booster landing milestone almost five years to the day after the first success.
As of NROL-108, SpaceX has now consecutively landed 20 Falcon boosters without failure, breaking a previous record of 19. Incredibly, the company has set that record in 2020 despite the fact that the last Falcon booster landing failure occurred in March of this year. In other words, SpaceX has successfully landed 20 boosters in a row in the eight months since.
After a flawless year of landings in 2017, SpaceX has suffered one or a few failed booster landings every year since – including two in 2020. As SpaceX continues to demonstrate that Falcon boosters really are capable of meeting their design goal of no less than 10 launches each, failed landings (and thus the loss of boosters) are an increasingly undesirable outcome. With any luck, 20 back-to-back landings suggest that SpaceX has found its stride and hopefully quashed most of the technical and organizational issues that allowed for multiple failed recoveries in recent years.
As of NROL-108, SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters have completed 70 successful landings (of 80 attempts) in the last five years. In other words, of the Falcon family’s 105 successful launches, almost two-thirds (67) have included one or more successful booster landings.
Ultimately, SpaceX is just getting started and CEO Elon Musk recently revealed a target of 48 launches in 2021 – nearly double its already record-breaking pace in 2020. With expendable Falcon launches an increasingly endangered species, it’s safe to say there will be a lot more booster landings next year.