SpaceX has now landed more boosters than any other rocket ever launched

Zoom in / SpaceX landed its 300th booster on Tuesday.

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SpaceX launches have become more routine. On Tuesday evening, SpaceX launched its 42nd rocket of the year, sending the Starlink satellites into orbit. Chances are, you haven't even noticed.

Likewise, the overall numbers are mind-blowing. SpaceX is now launching at a rate of one mission every 2.7 days this year. From the mid-1980s to the 2010s, there was a record 129 launches worldwide in any one year. This year alone, SpaceX is on pace for between 130 and 140 total launches.

But with Tuesday evening's mission, there was a separate number: 300. The Falcon family, which includes the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters, recorded its 300th successful first-stage landing.

Recycling lots of rockets

It is A lot Booster landings, and remarkably, they all occurred in less than a decade. SpaceX did not successfully land its first Falcon 9 booster until the rocket's 20th overall flight. This happened with the ORBCOMM-2 mission on December 22, 2015, when the first-stage booster returned to a pad near the launch pad. The first drone ship landing took place four months later.

Over the lifetime of the fleet, SpaceX has landed 85 percent of the Falcon rockets launched. These days, more than 90 percent of all its missions launch on previously flown boosters. So rocket recycling is absolutely a thing.

There are a few other ways to look at the significance of the number 300. The first is in stored products.

Landing 300 rockets means SpaceX has preserved 2,700 Merlin rocket engines. In round numbers, the dry mass of a Falcon 9 first stage is about 50 metric tons, so landing all these rockets prevented 15,000 metric tons of metal and other materials from being dumped into the oceans—the equivalent, in mass, of about 100 residential homes.

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Only a handful of rockets have ever been launched more than 300 times, all of them Russian. Soyuz-U is the all-time champion with 786 launches, followed by the Kosmos-3M booster with 445 launches and the Proton-K booster with 211 launches. Various Soyuz variants have been launched over the years.

Among active rockets, there really are no competitors after the Falcon 9. The retiring Russian Proton-M booster has 115 launches, the US-made Atlas V rocket has 99 launches, and the Chinese Long March 2D rocket has 89 launches. launches.

Always Falcon 9?

A fun parlor game is to guess whether the Soyuz booster on the Falcon 9 rocket has a chance to become the most flown rocket of all time. In all its variants and dating back to its introduction in 1966, the Soyuz rocket has been launched more than 1,700 times. Nearly six decades later, it's still going strong, and the Soyuz will continue to fly for most of this decade, a dozen missions a year or more, if not more. Although the Russian space program has repeatedly talked about replacing the Soyuz with new rockets, such boosters remain firmly on the drawing board.

As for the Falcon 9 rocket, among its variants, the booster has now been fired nearly 350 times. At this rate, expect it to overtake the Soyuz by the mid-2030s.

Of course, the Falcon 9 rocket will not continue at this rate. In the next year or two, SpaceX's significantly larger Starship rocket will begin launching Starlink satellites. This would remove some requirements from the Falcon 9, although the smaller booster could continue to fly for the foreseeable future, at least into the 2030s.

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