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SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket late yesterday afternoon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to set a new record for its rocket. The flight saw the rocket put more satellites into space for the company’s Starlink space constellation, which now operates 3,000 satellites according to unofficial estimates. In addition, the flight was a new record that saw a single Falcon 9 fly for the 15th time, then successfully land on a drone ship.
SpaceX launches the third mission in 36 hours as part of preparing the records for reuse
The SpaceX launch came days after the spacecraft tested the second stage of its Starship launch pad, which has continued to attract interest due to its size. The Starship’s test orbital flight, which may not happen until the first half of next year, would make it the largest rocket ever flown by a private company and the largest in the world if successful. The test saw SpaceX successfully fire one engine on the rocket, after earlier reports suggested that an earlier test may have resulted in some damage.
However, the latest launch concerned the Falcon 9 rocket, which is now the most reliable rocket in human history. SpaceX has flown this particular booster for an astounding 15th time, a new record for the company and for any rocket ever flown. Reports have indicated that after the Falcon 9 has flown ten times, is being evaluated, checked and repaired, and with today’s launch, SpaceX is now venturing into uncharted territory – where it will have to decide on maximum-gravity launch attempts before it is retired. Launching Starlink satellites with reusable rockets provides an added level of convenience, as payloads are built in-house and launch costs are much lower.
The launch came after SpaceX launched a NASA mission and an SES satellite in less than 36 hours. Other launches in December include a mission that put a lunar sink on its way to the Moon and more satellites for OneWeb.
SpaceX has had an amazing year so far, and with two launches left for 2022, it looks like the company will end it on a high after another record-breaking one. Should SpaceX launch two more missions later this month, the company will have conducted 61 launches in 2022 — the most by any company in human history and an average of more than one launch per week.
With those rapid launches, SpaceX’s Starlink constellation now operates more than 3,000 satellites, according to data collected by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell. Starlink was already the largest satellite constellation in the world before it crossed the 3,000-satellite mark. The company is limited in the number of satellites it can launch with the Falcon 9, and over time as the satellites have advanced, the number it can squeeze inside the rocket has decreased.
Early Starlink launches, which were first-generation spacecraft, saw at least 60 satellites launched on each mission, and those are now down to 54 for most recent launches, including the most recent.
Crucially, the next phase of the Constellation relies on the second generation of satellites, which can only be launched by the Starship. These satellites will have three times the data capacity of the first generation satellites, resulting in improved latency and lower manufacturing costs. In addition, they will also include hardware to allow SpaceX to partner with carriers such as T-Mobile to provide internet connectivity through smartphones to users in remote areas. The FCC approved the launch of some of those satellites earlier this month, in the midst of a battle over a claim by SpaceX’s competitors that its plans to launch the new spacecraft using the Starship violate FCC rules.