Is SpaceX reliable? Company goes for 100th successful flight in a row today


Photo of the Starlink payload on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week.
Enlarge / Photo of the Starlink payload on top of a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week.

SpaceX

SpaceX will attempt to launch another batch of 60 Starlink satellites today at 2:59 pm ET (18:59 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This marks the 28th overall launch of operational Starlink satellites.

The most notable aspect of today’s mission is that it would be the 100th consecutive successful flight for the company. This record dates back to June 2015, when the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage failed during the launch of a cargo supply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule was lost after the second stage broke apart and sank into the Atlantic Ocean.

Since that time, the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets have had an unblemished run of 99 successful launches, many of which have resulted in landings as well. SpaceX has lost one additional mission, but this didn’t occur during a launch. Rather, the Amos-6 payload blew apart in September 2016 during a propellant loading that preceded a static fire test. The company has safely launched 90 rockets since the Amos-6 mishap.

The rocket for today’s mission has only launched one other time, boosting the Sentinel-6A Earth science mission for NASA last November. That launch took place from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and the first stage has since been shipped across the country to Florida. It seems likely that one or more Merlin engines were swapped out on the first stage because SpaceX performed a static fire test of the vehicle earlier this week, something the company usually doesn’t do before a Starlink mission.

SpaceX has rarely used such a “young” rocket for a Starlink mission. This may suggest that the company’s customers are getting more comfortable using Falcon 9 first stages with more experience or that SpaceX is launching so quickly that this was simply the next rocket up. This will be the 16th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, meaning that if SpaceX launches today, it will remain on pace to make an orbital launch attempt every nine days in 2021.

A majority of the company’s launches so far this year, 13 of 16, have carried Starlink satellites, as SpaceX continues to build out its constellation to provide broadband Internet from low Earth orbit. However, it appears likely that the majority of the company’s upcoming launches this summer will be focused on projects for customers, including the 22nd Cargo Resupply mission for NASA, a GPS III satellite for the US Space Force, and a Sirius XM satellite. These three launches could all take place from Florida within the next month.

The company’s webcast for today’s launch attempt should begin about 15 minutes before liftoff.

Wednesday’s Starlink launch attempt.



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