FEATURED IMAGE: Falcon 9 takes flight! Falcon 9 B1049.6 is the first booster to fly to orbit and safely return for reuse six times. (Image credit: Next Horizons Spaceflight/Stephen Marr)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – SpaceX Falcon 9 booster B1049.6 looked like it had been through hell. In fact it had, five times previously. This was the sixth launch of a Falcon 9, a new reusability record. It launched on time at 10:31 am EDT (1431 UTC). Launch was uneventful, as the space community, and the public at large, has come to expect from SpaceX. After separation, B1049.6 returned to Earth and successfully landed on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. Some 45 minutes after launch, Ms. Chief caught one half of the previously flown fairing, while the other ended up in the water to be retrieved by Ms. Tree.
This was the 11th launch in support of the Starlink constellation, which is owned by SpaceX. Along with 57 Starlink v1 satellites were three hitchhiker SkySat satellites from Planet Labs. The SkySat satellite is an imaging satellite which provides imagery on a near constant basis, for free and pay, via an internet portal. The three launched today join 14 other SkySats as part of their constellation.
With this launch, SpaceX is steadily moving toward a word that shouldn’t be used in spaceflight: routine. As SpaceX is setting a launch cadence that most space programs could not afford, the people who live in and around the Cape Canaveral area are experiencing a fairly routine event. ULA may boast the Atlas, which has an astounding record of performance, with their last partial failure being in 2007, and last full failure happening in 1993. However, looking at data, ULA’s Atlas has recorded an average of 5.81 launches per year since 1993. Meanwhile SpaceX has launched 12 just this year, with another 19 pending before end of the year. At this pace and with their growing record of reliability, SpaceX will soon outstrip ULA in that field.
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