The year’s not half over, and Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies is about to launch more missions than it completed in all of 2016.
SpaceX successfully fired up a Falcon 9 rocket for the eighth time this year on Friday, matching its flight total for all of last year. Its next launch is scheduled just two days later, with the ramped-up cadence putting the company on track to achieve the 20 to 24 total missions it’s targeting for the year.
The quickening pace of launches illustrates how SpaceX has bounced back after one of its rockets and a customer’s satellite blew up on a Florida launch pad in September. The company was grounded for four months in the midst of an investigation into the incident before returning to flight in January. By racking up more successful launches, the closely held company has positioned itself again as a driving force in the new-age space race.
The rocket that took off Friday carried BulgariaSat-1, a communications satellite destined for geostationary orbit. It launched from the historic 39A pad at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Neil Armstrong left from before landing on the moon in 1969.
The launch used a “flight proven” Falcon 9 rocket booster, which means it’s flown to space previously and been returned and refurbished. SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Musk has championed reusability — once derided as a crazy idea — to drive down launch costs and win a growing roster of customers, including the US military. Friday marked the second time it’s used a pre-flown booster. “It’s starting to feel kinda normal to reuse rockets. Good. That’s how it is for cars and airplanes and how it should be for rockets,” Musk tweeted earlier this month.
SpaceX successfully recovered the booster from this mission on an unmanned drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, though it had been bracing for a less favourable outcome.