As we approach the halfway mark of 2021, SpaceX continues to set a blistering launch cadence that whole nations have not been able to match.
Since its first launch of the year on January 8, a Falcon 9 mission has been launched from either Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center, or Vandenberg on average once every two weeks. If the company maintains this pace, SpaceX will launch approximately 40 missions in 2021, as many successful launches as the entire US market managed last year.
Although SpaceX has launched a number of civil and commercial payloads, the bulk of its launch activities has been dedicated to expanding the company’s Starlink constellation, which it hopes will bring high-speed internet to every inch of the world.
In total, SpaceX has launched a total of 12 dedicated Starlink missions this year deploying 720 satellites into low Earth orbit. Additionally, the company flew two rideshare missions that deployed another 62 Starlink satellites into orbit.
In addition to its blistering launch cadence, 2021 has been the year of reusability for SpaceX.
All but one of the 18 Falcon 9 missions that SpaceX has launched this year have utilised flight-proven boosters. The company’s push for reusability in the first half of this year culminated in a Falcon 9 booster being launched on a tenth mission.
The Falcon 9 booster, serial number B1051, was launched on its maiden mission in March 2019 carrying the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission. Since then, the booster has been launched on average every 2.6 months carrying seven sets of 60 Starlink satellites, two governmental payloads, and three commercial payloads. In total, B1051 ferried over 420 separate payloads to orbit launching from Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center, and Vandenberg.
In addition to blasting through previous booster reusability records, SpaceX has been quietly perfecting the reuse of fairing halves.
In May, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 carrying 60 more Starlink satellites. The flight marked an important milestone as the 40th reuse of Falcon 9 fairing halves and the first time a single fairing half had supported five missions.
Despite a staggering first half of 2021, the second is likely to eclipse it.
Over the next six months, SpaceX will launch three crewed missions aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, two International Space Station resupply missions, NASA’s DART and IXPE missions, three national security missions, seven commercial missions, and five more Starlink missions. And this is only the flights we currently know about.