This afternoon, SpaceX successfully launched its 32nd Falcon 9 mission of 2022, officially breaking the company’s own record for orbital launches performed in one year. And since it’s only July, there are still many years left to lift the record even higher.
SpaceX has steadily increased its launch rate every year — except for a dip in 2019. For 2021, the company completed 31 launches, the most it had ever done, which also made SpaceX by far the most prolific U.S. launch provider.
At the beginning of 2022, SpaceX set an incredibly ambitious goal of launching 52 missions during the year. That figure was revealed by a NASA safety advisory panel in January, with a warning that SpaceX should still strive to maintain safety at the increased pace. “NASA and SpaceX need to be vigilant through 2022 that they are not victims of their success,” Sandy Magnus, a former NASA astronaut and member of NASA’s Aviation Safety Advisory Panel, said during the January meeting.
But so far SpaceX has stuck to its plan, with nothing but seamless missions this year. Ironically, SpaceX had originally hoped to start today’s mission on Thursday, but stopped the countdown shortly after an abort was triggered less than a minute before liftoff. It was a rare abort for SpaceX, which has not had to cut a countdown in months due to a technical issue. However, the company managed to get back up and running today after a non-stop countdown.
A key factor enabling such a busy launch schedule is that for a majority of SpaceX’s launches this year, SpaceX acts as its own customer. The company uses these launches to complement its massive internet-from-space Starlink constellation, lifting groups of up to 53 satellites at a time (although numbers vary from launch to launch). Today’s flight out of Vandenberg Space Force Base in California deployed another 46 Starlink satellites. The company currently has approximately 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 regularly sends Dragon capsules – carrying cargo and people – to the International Space Station. The company also has its Transporter missions, where various small satellites are packed together and deployed during a single mission. All of this, on top of SpaceX’s commercial customers and Department of Defense launches, makes for a busy manifesto.
Almost all of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets launched this year have been vehicles that have previously flown before, as the company continues to master landing and reusing the rockets. SpaceX also exclusively flies the Block 5 version of the Falcon 9, which is optimized for reuse. Today’s rocket landed on one of SpaceX’s drone ships after takeoff, marking the 125th total landing of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Now that SpaceX has broken the record, the company is still going strong. There is already another mission set for Sunday, July 24, off Florida, to launch another batch of Starlink satellites.