SpaceX successfully launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets into space for a record ninth time on Sunday, making it the first in the company’s fleet to launch and land nine times. The Falcon 9 rocket was carrying a new cargo of 60 Starlink satellites, which are part of the company’s efforts to provide satellite internet.
The successful launch and landing of this first-stage booster are noteworthy given SpaceX’s objectives when it designed the Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon 9 was designed to be able to fly 10 times with little or no modifications in between missions. The company currently has two Falcon 9 booster rockets close to the coveted 10 flights, per Space.com, and is closely monitoring the wear and tear each rocket undergoes every time they take off.
The Falcon 9 rocket that the company launched on Sunday had also supported the launch of the Crew Dragon Demo-1, the first unmanned test flight of the Dragon spacecraft; the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, or Canada’s new Earth observation satellites; the SXM-7, SirusXM’s failed satellite that aimed to support its digital radio service; and five other Starlink missions.
SpaceX has sent three batches of Starlink satellites to space over the past two weeks, adding 180 satellites to the more than 1,000 it already has up there. It has two more planned Starlink launches in March.
Nonetheless, company officials have recently said that 10 might not be the “magic number” and that Falcon 9 rockets could possibly make more flights, SpaceNews reported. Once a booster reaches the 10 flight milestone, SpaceX will analyze the booster and make an assessment on whether it can “move forward with it.”
As TechCrunch points out, rocket reuse is especially important for Starlink missions as SpaceX starts to ramp up its satellite internet service. Starlink has 10,000 customers at the moment, although SpaceX recently opened preorders for the service. For a $99 refundable deposit, customers get a Starlink kit that includes a mountable dish antenna, wifi router, and power supply. The entire kit costs $499 and monthly service costs $99 per month.
It should be said that it’s still unclear whether SpaceX will be able to launch enough satellites to cover the areas it needs to cover and provide reliable internet service. The appears the company is trying, though.