A flight-proven Falcon 9 was launched from Cape Canaveral on May 9 on its tenth mission carrying 60 more Starlink satellites.
The mission was launched at 06:42 UTC with all 60 Starlink satellites separating from the rocket’s upper stage approximately 65 minutes after liftoff. The launch was the third Falcon 9 flight in just two weeks and brings the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to over 1,500.
Following a successful launch, the Falcon 9 booster (B1051) touched down safely on the Just Read the Instructions droneship.
B1051 was first utilised to support the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission in March 2019. Since its debut, it has carried over 400 individual satellites into low Earth orbit, Geostationary transfer orbit and Sun-synchronous orbit launching from Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.
As the first Falcon 9 booster to complete 10 missions, the successful recovery of B1051 marks a milestone that has long been identified by SpaceX as a goal of their reusability efforts. In an April 23 news conference, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk explained that although the company identified 10 flights as a goal, there was no “obvious limit to the reusability of the vehicle.”
SpaceX has used its Starlink missions as an avenue to test the boundaries of both its flight-proven boosters and fairings. According to Musk, this approach will be pushed until they see some kind of failure.
“We do intend to fly the Falcon 9 boosters until we see some kind of a failure with the Starlink missions — have that be a life-leader,” said Musk. “We’re learning a lot of about reusability. It is a hard problem for rockets.”
With the successful recovery of B1051, SpaceX will have the opportunity to push the boundaries of its recovery and reuse efforts. The launch provider has not yet announced whether the booster will be reused for an eleventh time.