On Tuesday night, SpaceX successfully launched another batch of the company’s internet-from-space Starlink satellites to orbit, using a very space-hardened Falcon 9 rocket for the job. This launch marked the rocket’s seventh flight to space and back — the first time SpaceX has flown such a seasoned vehicle to orbit.
The Falcon 9 took off at 9:13PM ET from SpaceX’s launch site at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with 60 Starlink satellites in tow. After a quick trip to space, the first stage of the Falcon 9 — the bulk of the vehicle that contains the main engines and most of the fuel — separated from the rest of the rocket and came back to Earth. It then performed one of SpaceX’s signature rocket landings, touching down on one of the company’s drone ships in the Atlantic.
Before this flight, the Falcon 9 had boosted two communications satellites to orbit on two separate missions, and SpaceX had also used the vehicle to launch four separate Starlink launches. It wasn’t just the rocket that had flown before either. The rocket’s nosecone, which surrounds the satellites during the climb to space, was also used before for previous flights. One half of the nosecone — or payload fairing — had flow once before, while the other half had flown twice before this launch.
By now, SpaceX has made these launch and landing routines a fairly regular sight out of Florida, with each new mission adding numbers to the company’s resume. Last night’s launch was notable for being SpaceX’s 100th Falcon 9 launch ever. It also marked the company’s 23rd launch of this year and the 67th time SpaceX has recovered one of its Falcon 9 boosters following a launch.
Those numbers are only expected to grow, with more launches slated this year. And with yesterday’s rocket successfully landing, an eighth flight is perhaps in the future.