SpaceX Falcon 9 booster fleet assembles for West Coast Starlink launches

SpaceX sent a second flight-proven Falcon 9 booster to its West Coast launch site last week. (Reddit /u/PathfinderIndustrial)

For the second time in a month, SpaceX has shipped a heavily flown Falcon 9 booster from Cape Canaveral, Florida to its West Coast launch facilities.

Falcon 9 booster B1051’s June 24th arrival at Vandenberg Air/Space Force Base (VAFB) is perhaps the best sign yet that SpaceX means to almost immediately reach – and sustain – an orbital launch cadence not seen on the West Coast in decades. Just four weeks prior to B1051’s second appearance at the California launch range, B1049 became the first Falcon 9 booster to arrive at Vandenberg in more than half a year.

B1051’s arrival means that SpaceX now has two Falcon 9 boosters on hand to support dedicated polar Starlink launches out of Vandenberg – launches that could begin as early as next month. First teased by SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell in April, preparations for that July launch target have been well underway for months. Several major pieces have fallen into place in rapid succession at the same time.

A few weeks after Shotwell’s comments, SpaceX signed a lease for new dock space and rocket processing facilities and moved its years-old West Coast recovery operations from Port of Los Angeles to adjacent Port of Long Beach facilities soon after. Around May 27th, Falcon 9 booster B1049 was trucked into VAFB.

On June 10th, drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) began a more than 5000-mile (~8000 km) journey from Port Canaveral, Florida to Port of Long Beach, California, where it would eventually recover boosters hundreds of miles downrange after dedicated polar Starlink launches. After waiting for several days in a nearby harbor, the massive SpaceX recovery platform was carried through the Panama Canal on the back of an even larger transport ship on June 25th and is now en route to California – ETA: July 6th.

Falcon 9 B1049, May 9th. (Richard Angle)
Falcon 9 B1051, May 12th. (Richard Angle)

Once OCISLY arrives, the only real uncertainties left will be readying the drone ship for recovery operations after a long journey and ensuring that SpaceX’s VAFB SLC-4E launch pad is ready to go after six months of inactivity. That leaves Falcon 9 second stage, payload fairing, and satellite testing, delivery, and integration – a routine process for SpaceX after 30 successful Starlink launches.

With both Falcon 9 boosters B1049 and B1051 at hand, SpaceX will feasibly be able to push SLC-4E to its design limits with monthly Starlink launches. Having respectively achieved record turnarounds of 61 and 38 days between flights, SpaceX’s West Coast Starlink launch campaign is unlikely to suffer from a lack of booster availability anytime soon.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster fleet assembles for West Coast Starlink launches
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