SpaceX Launches First 22x-Flown Booster, Successfully Lands Offshore

B1062 sits safely on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS). With 21 drone ship landings and one return to solid ground, she is now SpaceX’s record-setting frequent flyer. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Tacking another record onto an already record-setting year, SpaceX picked up the slack from an uncharacteristically quiet midmonth to wrap up the final days of a busy June on Thursday, delivering an additional 23 Starlink internet communications satellites into low-Earth orbit. The veteran B1062 booster—which became the first Falcon 9 core to launch a 22nd time—rose ponderously from storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:14 a.m. EDT for SpaceX’s 66th mission of the year and the ninth so far in June alone.

With 22 flights now behind her, B1062 has launched over 550 Starlink satellites to orbit. Photo Credit: SpaceX

In sharp contrast to the poor weather picture earlier this week, Thursday’s expansive “launch window” from 7:14 a.m. through 11 a.m. EDT proved highly favorable, with forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Space Force Base offering a 90-percent “Go” status. “Although sea breeze showers and thunderstorms are expected to develop in the afternoon and evening near the Cape,” it noted, “most of the Spaceport should remain dry during the primary and backup launch windows.”

Only a marginal risk of violating the Cumulus Cloud Rule, it seemed, stood in the way of launch, with Friday’s backup opportunity trending around 85-percent favorability. In readiness for launch, the East Coast-based Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), “Just Read the Instructions”, put to sea out of Port Canaveral, bound for a recovery position downrange of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean.

B1062 takes flight at 7:14 a.m. EDT for her 22nd mission. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Flying this morning’s mission was B1062, which this year alone became the first Falcon 9 booster to reach a 20th launch in April and a 21st last month. She entered service back in November 2020 to lift the fourth Block III Global Positioning System (GPS III-04) navigation and timing satellite to Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) for the U.S. Space Force, followed by GPS III-05 in June of 2021.

During 2022, she logged eight launches, the highest ever recorded by a single Falcon 9, notably flying twice that April and setting a new empirical record (still unbroken) of only 21 days between flights by the same orbital-class booster.

The GPS III-04 and U.S. Space Force livery adorn B1062’s payload fairing before its launch in late 2020. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

B1062 is among a handful of vehicles to have launched two human crews. She flew the historic, all-civilian Inspiration4 crew of Shift4Payments billionaire Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Chris Sembroski and Hayley Arceneaux in September 2021 and carried Ax-1 astronauts Mike Lopez-Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe on the first all-private ISS mission by AxiomSpace, Inc., in April 2022.

Added to those impressive credentials—and including this morning’s flight—B1062 has now lifted more than 550 Starlink satellites on 15 missions, plus a pair of geostationary-bound communications satellites—Egypt’s Nilesat-301 in June 2022 and Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat-7B (also known as BADR-8) in May of last year—as well as 40 broadband satellites for London, England-based OneWeb. All but one of her 22 missions ended with pinpoint-accuracy drone ship touchdowns, making B1062 the Falcon 9 record-holder for the greatest number of successful landings offshore.

B1062 began her career with a pair of launches of Block III of the Global Positioning System (GPS) for the U.S. Space Force in 2020 and 2021. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

In readiness for launch, fueling of the Falcon 9 got underway at 6:40 a.m. EDT and B1062 roared aloft right on the opening of Thursday’s window. Eight and a half minutes later, she returned to alight on the deck of the drone ship and the 23 Starlinks continued on towards orbit under the thrust of the single Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine on the second stage.

Deployment was targeted to occur at 62 minutes and 35 seconds into the flight, bringing to 1,048 the total number of these flat-packed satellites launched in 47 “batches” since the start of the year. Nearly 6,700 Starlinks have been emplaced into orbit since May 2019.

B1062’s first human mission took place in September 2021, when she lifted Dragon Resilience to orbit with the Inspiration4 crew of Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

As a network, Starlink enables high-speed and low-latency internet provision to dozens of sovereign nations and international markets in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa. In the month of May alone, Starlink connectivity became available in Uruguay, Indonesia and Fiji, with Sierra Leone joining the network in June, bringing to 79 the total number of sovereign nations or regions to be in full receipt of coverage.

The downsized V2 Mini Starlinks, first flown in February of last year, boast three to four times greater “usable” bandwidth than earlier Starlink iterations. “V2 Minis include key technologies—such as more powerful phased-array antennas and the use of E-Band for backhaul—which will allow Starlink to provide 4x more capacity per satellite than earlier iterations,” SpaceX explained. “Among other enhancements, V2 Minis are equipped with new argon Hall thrusters for on-orbit maneuvering.”

B1062 flies the all-private Ax-1 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in April of 2022. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

And since January 2024, SpaceX has also flown multiple “Direct-to-Cell” Starlinks to permit mobile network providers to offer “seamless global access to texting, calling and browsing” whether “on land, lakes or coastal waters”, without the need to change hardware or firmware. The Direct-to-Cell satellites—13 of which will be aboard B1075 for tomorrow’s Vandenberg launch—possess advanced modems which serve as a cellphone tower in space to eliminate dead zones with network integration similar to a standard roaming partner, according to SpaceX.

Florida-based intercity operator Brightline adopted Starlink on its trains in 2023, the first passenger rail service in the world to do so. Additionally, El Salvador’s Ministry of Education has begun integrating Starlink capability into its schools to help close the digital divide between urban and remote rural communities and 50 Rwandan schools are now connected via Starlink’s high-speed internet service. As of May, Starlink reportedly had about three million registered subscribers or customers worldwide.

A Starlink payload stack is readied for launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX

As B1062 triumphantly concludes her life-leading 22nd flight, another record is added to a burgeoning list of accomplishments in 2024. It remains remarkable in the extreme that boosters have attained such high levels of reusability in a comparatively short timeframe. Only as recently as March 2017 did SpaceX reuse a once-before-flown Falcon 9 core for a second launch.

Those figures climbed rapidly as boosters scored steadily ascending numbers of missions and cemented gradually growing levels of maturity. Boosters achieved third flights for the first time in December 2018, fourth in November 2019, fifth in March 2020, sixth in August 2020, seventh in November 2020, eighth in January 2021, ninth in March 2021, tenth in May 2021, eleventh in December 2021, twelfth in March 2022, thirteenth in June 2022 and fourteenth and fifteenth in September and December 2022

The exhaust plume of B1062’s nine Merlin 1D+ engines appears to flare radially in the rarefied high atmosphere, late in first-stage ascent during her 19th flight in March. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

With boosters initially certified by SpaceX only for 15 missions, the “active” status of two fleet-leaders was paused for six months in the opening half of last year as recertification got underway to extend their operational lives to 20 flights. Veteran B1058 went on to record a record-smashing sixteenth mission last July, a seventeenth in September, an eighteenth in November and a nineteenth a few days before Christmas.

Sadly, that nineteenth launch proved her last, for although the mission was successful, rough seas and winds caused her to topple on the deck of the ASDS during her recovery and post-flight transit back to port and she was lost. The baton then passed to her sisters B1061, B1062 and B1067, all of which reached 20 launches in the opening half of 2024. For her part, B1062 was first to reach a 20th launch in April and a 21st last month.

B1062 launches into darkened Florida skies at 8:32 p.m. EDT on 18 May for her 21st mission. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Sixteen reusable Falcon 9 cores—including a pair of brand-new cores which came online in January and March—contributed to 2024’s success, achieving SpaceX’s first ten-mission month in January, its first eleven- and twelve-mission month in March and now its first 13- and 14-mission month in May and averaging a launch every 2.7 days. Forty-seven of the year’s 66 launches have been devoted to launching 1,048 Starlinks, with four others lofting large geostationary communications satellites for Sweden, Indonesia, Paris, France-headquartered Eutelsat and Luxembourg-based SES.

Two pairs of crewed and uncrewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) have also taken flight, as well as spacecraft to explore Earth’s oceans and atmospheric health and the potential habitability of the Moon. As well as increasing monthly launch totals, SpaceX flew four times out of Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., for the first time in January, then wrapped up its first five-launch West Coast month in May.

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