SpaceX has completed its 43rd launch of 2022 and 62nd dedicated Starlink launch overall, breaking a launch pad turnaround record.
This pad — Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) Launch Complex 40 (LC-40) — is the key cog in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch machine, increasing the importance of what could otherwise be “just” another broken record for a , substantial company notorious for never settling down.
After several delays related to another weather-plagued Starlink launch (4-34) departing from the same launch pad, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off of LC-40 on SpaceX’s Starlink 4-35 mission at 7:32 p.m. EDT (11:32 p.m. EDT). 32 UTC), Saturday 24 September. As usual, the mission used a flight-tested Falcon 9 booster (B1073), two flight-tested halves of the payload fairing and a consumable second stage. As usual, all four components worked properly and a new batch of 52 Starlink V1.5 satellites were deployed about 15 minutes after launch.
Just the latest of dozens completed since May 2019, SpaceX’s Starlink missions have become an extraordinary routine – a testament to the company’s relentless pursuit of perfection considering how difficult it is to launch a rocket to start successfully once. 62 dedicated Starlink launches later, Falcon 9 has successfully placed every single Starlink satellite it has ever carried (nearly 3400 spacecraft) into proper orbit, losing only two boosters in the process.
But even though the missions have become routine, SpaceX has spent every waking second tweaking its rockets and operations to squeeze more power and more cadence out of every part. The results can only be described as a complete success. In 2018 and 2019, SpaceX launched an average of 17 Falcon rockets per year. SpaceX’s annual cadence increased to 26 launches in 2020 and 31 in 2021.
That progress pales in comparison to the cadence SpaceX aims to achieve in 2022. In less than nine months, the company has completed 43 Falcon 9 launches. Before the end of July, barely six months into the year, SpaceX had broken its annual record of 31 launches. If it can maintain the same average pace it’s maintained over the past 12 months, SpaceX could realistically complete 58 Falcon launches in 2022. If it continues the even more impressive pace it achieved in Q3 (~17 launches), it could hit 60+ launches this year.
Only one other missile family in history (the Soviet R-7) has successfully completed more launches in a calendar year.
SpaceX, of course, has no intention of accepting the potentially record-breaking launch cadence it has achieved as the new status quo. Just two-thirds of the way to 2022, CEO Elon Musk revealed SpaceX is aiming for up to 100 Launches in 2023. As previously reported on Teslarati, while that number may seem implausible at first glance, it was still within the realm of possibility given SpaceX’s already established capabilities.
Just weeks later, Musk’s 100 launch goal has gone from barely achievable to a serious — if still unlikely — possibility thanks to the record SpaceX broke with Starlink 4-35. SpaceX’s latest Starlink mission launched from the same pad of LC-40 just 5.97 days after Starlink 4-34’s launch, beating its old turnaround record (7.67 days) by almost 25%.
For LC-40, already SpaceX’s workhorse and the source of the company’s fastest pad turnaround, the new record theoretically means one of its three pads can now do it single-handedly Support for up to 60 Falcon 9 launches per year. It would be unwise to assume that each launch pad can or will be operated sustainably for a full year near its record orbital period. But at least the new record gives SpaceX new leeway it can use to significantly increase LC-40’s annual cadence in a more sustainable way. In 2022, LC-40 took an average of 12.7 days per launch. In Q3, it’s on track to average about 10.3 days per launch.
Most importantly, there’s evidence that SpaceX didn’t just pull off a one-off feat with Starlink 4-35. Confirmed by Next Spaceflight, Ben Cooper and airspace restrictions, SpaceX has tentative plans to launch Starlink 4-36 from LC-40 as early as 6:36 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 30 – a slight reversal More quickly as the new record. Another Falcon 9 launch from LC-40 – EchoStars Galaxy 33/34 mission – could follow Starlink 4-36 as early as October 5, although that mission is more likely to slip by a day or two.
There is a high risk that Storm/Hurricane Ian will create unacceptable weather conditions and force SpaceX to delay the launch, but for now there is still a chance.
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