SpaceX launches two rockets—three hours aside—to shut out a document 12 months


SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off Thursday night from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Enlarge / SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off Thursday evening from NASA’s Kennedy Area Heart in Florida.

It looks as if SpaceX did all the things this 12 months however launch 100 occasions.

On Thursday evening, the launch firm despatched two extra rockets into orbit from Florida. One was a Falcon Heavy, the world’s strongest rocket in industrial service, carrying the US navy’s X-37B spaceplane from a launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Area Heart at 8:07 pm EST (01:07 UTC). Lower than three hours later, at 11:01 pm EST (04:01 UTC), SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 launcher took off a couple of miles to the south with a payload of 23 Starlink Web satellites.

The Falcon Heavy’s two facet boosters and the Falcon 9’s first stage landed again on Earth for reuse.

These had been SpaceX’s remaining launches of 2023. SpaceX ends the 12 months with 98 flights, together with 91 Falcon 9s, 5 Falcon Heavy rockets, and two check launches of the large new Tremendous Heavy-Starship rocket. These flights had been unfold throughout 4 launch pads in Florida, California, and Texas.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, set a purpose of 100 launches this 12 months, up from the corporate’s earlier document of 61 in 2022. For some time, it appeared like SpaceX was on observe to perform the feat, however a spate of unhealthy climate and technical issues with the ultimate Falcon Heavy launch of the 12 months stored the corporate in need of 100 flights.

King of ‘upmass’

“Congrats to the whole Falcon crew at SpaceX on a document breaking 96 launches in 2023!” wrote Jon Edwards, vp of Falcon launch autos at SpaceX, on the social media platform X. “I keep in mind when Elon Musk first threw out a purpose of 100 launches as a thought experiment, supposed to unlock our considering as to how we would speed up Falcon throughout all ranges of manufacturing and launch.

“Only some years later and right here we’re,” Edwards wrote. “I’m so extremely proud to work with one of the best crew on Earth, and so excited to see what we obtain subsequent 12 months.”

It is necessary to step again and put these numbers in context. No different household of orbit-class rockets has ever flown greater than 63 occasions in a 12 months. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets have now exceeded this quantity by roughly 50 %. SpaceX’s opponents in the US, equivalent to United Launch Alliance and Rocket Lab, managed far fewer flights in 2023. ULA had three missions, and Rocket Lab launched its small Electron booster 10 occasions.

Practically two-thirds of SpaceX’s missions this 12 months had been devoted to delivering satellites to orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband community, a constellation that now numbers greater than 5,000 spacecraft.

SpaceX additionally launched 5 missions with the Falcon Heavy rocket, created by aggregating three Falcon 9 rocket boosters collectively. Highlights from SpaceX’s 2023 Falcon launch schedule included three crew missions to the Worldwide Area Station, and the launch of NASA’s Psyche mission to discover a metallic asteroid.

In all, SpaceX’s Falcon rockets hauled roughly 1,200 metric tons, or greater than 2.6 million kilos, of payload mass into orbit this 12 months. This “upmass” is equal to almost three Worldwide Area Stations. Most of this was made up of mass-produced Starlink satellites.


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