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SpaceX is stretching the lifetime of its reusable Falcon 9 boosters

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By Stephen Clark, Ars Technica


The late-night liftoff of a Falcon 9 rocket with another batch of Starlink Internet satellites on Sunday set a new record for the most flights by a SpaceX launch vehicle, with a first-stage booster flying for a 16th time. SpaceX now aims to fly its reusable Falcon 9 boosters as many as 20 times, double the company’s original goal.

The flight followed several months of inspections and refurbishment of SpaceX’s most-flown rocket, a process that included a “recertification” of the booster to prove, at least on paper, that it could fly as many as five more times after completing its 15th launch and landing last December.

Sunday night’s mission got the booster’s extended life off to a good start.

The record-setting rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:58 pm EDT (03:58 UTC) with 22 second-generation Starlink satellites. The rocket’s nine kerosene-fueled Merlin engines fired for about two and a half minutes to climb to the edge of space, then the booster detached to descend toward a landing on one of SpaceX’s landing platforms floating northeast of the Bahamas.

An upper-stage engine ignited to continue propelling the Starlink satellites into orbit. SpaceX declared the launch a success following the deployment of the Starlink payloads about an hour after liftoff. The company’s global Internet network now has about 4,400 satellites in orbit, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who tracks spaceflight activity.

SpaceX plans to haul thousands more Starlink satellites into orbit in the coming years to add to the network’s capacity, which now has more than 1.5 million subscribers.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, itself standing about 15 stories tall, settled onto the deck of the drone ship less than nine minutes after launch, using thrust from its center engine to slow for touchdown. It was the 46th launch by SpaceX’s Falcon rocket family this year, an average cadence of one flight around every four days.

Read the full article here: SpaceX is stretching the lifetime of its reusable Falcon 9 boosters | Ars Technica

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