The SpaceX reusable Falcon 9 rocket fleet has made it possible to carry out more flights in 2020 than ever before. This year, SpaceX completed a record-breaking launch manifest and carried out 26 rocket launches, the most annual launches in history. Rocket reusability played an important role in increasing launch cadence. The Falcon 9 will launch payloads into orbit and return vertically from space to land on landing pads and autonomous droneships at sea. To date, 70 orbital class Falcon 9 boosters have been landed by SpaceX and 49 have been reused. The company managed to fly two separate rocket boosters 7 times this year. To decrease the cost of spaceflight, engineers plan to reuse a first-stage booster at least 10 times. Two first-stage boosters known as B1051 and B1049 are the most reused Falcon 9 rockets that have achieved 7 reflights this year. SpaceX is only three flights away from 10 reflights being achieved. Falcon 9[Block 5] SpaceX officials state that it is built to perform up to 100 reflights.
A photo collage of all the Falcon 9 boosters used in 2020 was shared by Stephen Marr, a spaceflight photographer who goes by the name @spacecoast_stve on Twitter, “SpaceX carried out a record-breaking 26 launches this year, but how many boosters did it take to get it done? The answer is 11. And here they are!” He wrote. “Falcon was 25% of successful orbital launches in 2020, but maybe a majority of payload to orbit. Anyone done the math?”
Another Twitter user @conexionspacial responded, “According to my calculations and the data of all the known masses, since some are unknown, more than 416,467 Kg were launched, of which 238,617 Kg were launched by SpaceX, that is, more than 57.2% of all the total mass sent,” they wrote. “Interesting,” Musk replied.
Of the 26 missions conducted this year, 14 launches were internal SpaceX missions to deploy Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit for its broadband internet network. Starlink missions are deployed atop previously-flown, refurbished Falcon 9 rocket boosters. Commercial satellite deployments and missions for NASA were the rest of the launches conducted this year.
The first pair of crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under the NASA Commercial Crew Program, which aims to execute regular crewed space flights from American soil, are the most significant SpaceX missions conducted this year. SpaceX launched its first astronauts during the Demo-2 flight on May 30, 2020. NASA astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley launched the historic Demo-2 mission onboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft on top of a Falcon 9 rocket that took off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Since the Space Shuttle was grounded in 2011, it was the first crewed mission launched from American soil. After the successful launch, Musk blissfully stated, “…Getting astronauts to orbit after almost a decade, I think this is something that should really get people [closed fist to the chest] right in the heart – of anyone who has any spirit of exploration…[…] I am really quite overcome with emotion on this day, its kind of hard to talk, frankly. It’s been 18 years working towards this goal,” he said. After 63 days, the Demo-2 mission ended with a good Crew Dragon splashdown that proved that the SpaceX spacecraft is effective for transporting people safely to and from the Space Station. NASA certified Crew Dragon for routine operating missions.
Most recently, on November 15th, SpaceX launched its second crewed mission to the orbital laboratory. The mission, known as Crew-1, is the first operational mission under the Commercial Crew Program of NASA that launched a four-astronaut foreign crew. Crew-1 also lifted off on top of a Falcon 9 rocket aboard Launch Pad 39A’s Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft. The mission is still ongoing.
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