This afternoon, SpaceX successfully launched its 32nd Falcon 9 mission of 2022, officially breaking the company’s own record for orbital launches conducted in a single year. And since it’s only July, there’s still plenty of year left to push that record even higher.
SpaceX has been steadily increasing its launch cadence each year — aside from a dip in 2019. For 2021, the company pulled off 31 launches, the most it had ever done, which also made SpaceX the most prolific American launch provider by far.
At the beginning of 2022, SpaceX set an incredibly ambitious goal of launching 52 missions over the course of the year. That number was revealed by a NASA safety advisory panel in January, with a word of caution that SpaceX should still strive to maintain safety amid the increased pace. “NASA and SpaceX will have to be watchful during 2022 that they’re not victims of their success,” Sandy Magnus, a former NASA astronaut and member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said during the January meeting.
But so far, SpaceX has been sticking to its schedule, with nothing but seamless missions this year. Ironically, SpaceX had originally hoped to launch today’s missions on Thursday but stopped the countdown short after an abort was triggered less than a minute before takeoff. It was a rare abort for SpaceX, which hasn’t had to cut a countdown short in many months due to a technical issue. The company was able to get off the ground today, however, after an uninterrupted countdown.
One key factor that allows for such a busy launch schedule is that, in a majority of SpaceX’s launches this year, SpaceX is serving as its own customer. The company is using these launches to flesh out its massive internet-from-space Starlink constellation, lofting batches of up to 53 satellites at a time (though the numbers vary from launch to launch). Today’s flight out of Vandenberg Space Force Base in California put up an additional 46 Starlink satellites. The company currently has roughly 2,600 Starlink satellites in orbit.
Even without the Starlink launch, SpaceX has had plenty of other missions to keep the company busy. Thanks to its partnership with NASA, SpaceX periodically sends Dragon capsules — carrying cargo and people — to the International Space Station. The company also has its Transporter missions, in which various small satellites are packed together and deployed during a single mission. All of that, on top of SpaceX’s commercial customers and launches for the Defense Department, create a busy manifest.
Nearly all of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets that have launched this year have been vehicles that have previously flown before, as the company continues to master landing and reusing its rockets. SpaceX is also exclusively flying on the Block 5 version of its Falcon 9, which is optimized for reuse. Today’s rocket did successfully land on one of SpaceX’s drone ships after takeoff, marking the 125th overall landing of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Now that SpaceX has beat its record, the company is still moving full steam ahead. There’s already another mission set for Sunday, July 24th, out of Florida, to launch another batch of Starlink satellites.
Author: Loren Grush.