Aerospace & Defence

SpaceX Falcon 9 reaches a record 20th flight

3rd May 2024
Harry Fowle

SpaceX has once again matched its own record for rocket reusability with the recent launch of a Falcon 9 rocket.

This mission, held on May 2nd at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, successfully deployed two Earth-observation satellites for Maxar at 2:36 p.m. EDT (1836 GMT; 11:36 a.m. local California time). Remarkably, this marked the 20th mission for the rocket's first stage, equalling the record set by another Falcon 9 last month and matched just this past Saturday night (April 27).

The first stage of the Falcon 9 made another successful vertical landing at Vandenberg approximately 8.5 minutes post-liftoff. The rocket's upper stage continued its journey, deploying the first of Maxar's WorldView Legion satellites 13 minutes after launch, with the second following 3.5 minutes later. These satellites, constructed by Maxar Space Systems and operated by Maxar Intelligence, are the first two in a planned six-satellite network designed to significantly enhance Maxar Intelligence's capability to collect 30-centimetre-class and multispectral imagery. According to Maxar representatives:

"When all six WorldView Legion satellites are launched, it will triple Maxar Intelligence's capacity to collect 30-centimetre-class [12 inches] and multispectral imagery,"

"The full Maxar constellation of 10 electro-optical satellites will image the most rapidly changing areas on Earth as frequently as every 20 to 30 minutes, from sunup to sundown," they added.

The mission, dubbed Maxar 1 by SpaceX, forms part of a busy schedule for Elon Musk's enterprise, which also includes the launch of 23 Starlink internet satellites from Florida later tonight. Furthermore, early this morning, the four astronauts of SpaceX's Crew-8 astronaut mission repositioned their Dragon capsule at the International Space Station to accommodate the upcoming arrival of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, scheduled for launch on May 6th.

The importance of reusable rockets in modern space exploration

The development of reusable rocket technology has revolutionised space travel, making it more sustainable and economically viable. Reusability lowers the cost of access to space—a critical factor as we aim for more frequent launches, extended space missions, and the possibility of space tourism. SpaceX has been at the forefront of this innovation, with its Falcon 9 rocket demonstrating the highest number of reuses among current orbital rockets.

Reusable rockets also decrease the environmental impact of space launches by reducing the need to produce new components for each flight. This sustainability aspect is crucial as the global space industry grows and the number of launches continues to increase.

Looking forward, the continued advancement of reusable rocket technology is essential for ambitious projects such as Mars colonisation, where regular, cost-effective travel between Earth and Mars will be crucial. Reusable rockets not only promise a more sustainable approach to space exploration but also support the burgeoning satellite industry, which relies on frequent and affordable access to orbit.

Overall, the reusability of rockets like SpaceX's Falcon 9 not only represents a remarkable technical achievement but also sets the stage for the next era of space exploration, where missions beyond our current capabilities become the stepping stones to an expanded presence in space.

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