When it comes to SpaceX rocket launches, this year has been the busiest by far.
In 2020, for example, the Elon Musk-led commercial space company managed a total of 26 launches, while last year it sent 31 rockets into the skies, all missions involving its trusty Falcon 9 rocket.
This year, however, SpaceX has achieved a whopping 61 missions — the last of 2022 launching early Friday ET — all with the Falcon 9, except for one launch in November that used its more powerful Falcon Heavy rocket with three boosters, by two US Space force to deploy satellites.
California-based SpaceX has clearly come a long way since its first cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012, a year in which it made just two launches.
In addition to deploying numerous satellites in low Earth orbit for a number of customers, the company also began regular manned flights to and from the ISS in 2020, allowing NASA to transport its astronauts from US soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program into space ended in 2011.
Part of the reason SpaceX has been able to increase its launch frequency is because of the Falcon 9’s design, which allows for the first stage landing, so it can easily be used for multiple missions. This allows SpaceX to focus on overhauling a small fleet of rockets rather than having to build numerous disposable boosters at great cost.
To date, SpaceX has performed 198 rocket launches, 159 booster landings and 133 reflights.
With more customers looking to send small satellites into orbit, and with SpaceX also using its space hardware to deploy large numbers of its Starlink internet satellites, 2023 looks set to be an even busier year for SpaceX.
Looking further ahead, SpaceX is also preparing for the maiden flight of its Super Heavy rocket and next-generation Starship spacecraft. A version of Starship is set to land the first woman and first black person on the lunar surface in just a few years in NASA’s Artemis III mission, and could even carry the first astronauts to Mars.
Starship is also set to carry passengers on the first all-civilian mission to the moon after Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought nine seats for the DearMoon mission, which will include a flyby of the lunar surface before returning home. The voyage is slated for 2023, but delays in testing the Super Heavy rocket and spacecraft mean SpaceX is likely to miss that date.
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