Three days after becoming the first privately developed rocket in history to launch people into orbit, SpaceX’s first astronaut-tested Falcon 9 booster has safely returned to dry land.
Although the great significance of SpaceX’s flawless astronaut debut and arrival at the space station cannot be overstated, the fact remains that the vast majority of the company’s orbital missions are centered around the affordable launch of satellites and other unscrewed payloads. All of these launches also need Falcon boosters, and Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission has come at a time when SpaceX’s airworthy rocket fleet is the smallest it has been in at least 1
SpaceX’s booster fleet has dropped from as many as ten to as few as two in just 13 months, significantly thinned by two failed Falcon Heavy center recoveries and the loss of four boosters in 2020 alone (two intentionally, two less). Thankfully, B1058’s successful landing on May 30 and the 2nd return a third booster to SpaceX’s immediately available rocket fleet. On the horizon, two more unflown boosters are in the late stages of preparing for their separate launch debuts – no earlier than (NET) June 30 and August 30, respectively. With luck, SpaceX’s fleet of proven flight amplifiers will soon grow almost three times in about the same number of months.
Right now, SpaceX’s own Starlink satellite Internet constellation is by far the biggest demand for SpaceX rockets – especially the air-tested boosters that allow the company to perform these launches at an unbeatable cost. Over the past twelve months, thanks to the spectacular success of Falcon 9 Block 5 reusability, SpaceX has significantly reduced booster production at Hawthorne, California’s headquarters, and so far dedicated the six latest boosters produced to strict, high-profile missions for NASA and the US military.
In other words, while SpaceX has technically had three flow Falcon 9 boosters – B1058, B1060 and B1061 – more or less ready for flight in months, their first launches are launched have to be reserved for some selected customers who still have reservations about the company’s air-tested rockets. With its first reserved mission – Crew Dragon’s orbital astronaut launch debut – now out of the way, it can gently use the Falcon 9 booster B1058 to happily enter the larger SpaceX fleet and begin preparing for its next launch.
Thanks to the fact that the booster B1058’s first flight resulted in a relatively mild atmospheric re-entry and landing, it could potentially be reversed for the next launch extremely quickly. With three Starlink launches scheduled only in June and the first one expected to be launched as early as 21:25 EDT (01:25 UTC), June 3, SpaceX can actually have to renovate the B1058 much faster than any booster before it. SpaceX currently has two Falcon 9 boosters (B1049 and B1051) available for Starlink launches. B1049 will launch this week, while B1051 flew its fourth mission just six weeks ago. Based on SpaceX’s current record of 62 days between launches of the same booster, B1051 may be ready for its fifth mission at the end of June.
In other words, unless SpaceX does not bring in flight-tested Falcon Heavy sidebooster B1052 or B1053 from retirement later this month, the company will need to break its record-strengthening record by a huge margin with B1049 or B1058. SpaceX really has a fun way to rest on its bearings.
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