This afternoon, SpaceX successfully launched its 32nd Falcon 9 mission of 2022, officially breaking the company’s record for most orbital launches made in a single year. And since it’s only July, there’s still plenty of year to push that record further.
SpaceX has been steadily increasing its launch cadence each year, in addition to a dip in 2019. By 2021, the company has completed 31 launches, the most it has ever done, also making SpaceX the most prolific US launch provider with difference.
In early 2022, SpaceX set an incredibly ambitious goal of launching 52 missions over the course of the year. That number was revealed by a NASA security advisory panel in January, with a caveat that SpaceX still has to work to maintain security amid the increased pace. “NASA and SpaceX will have to be vigilant throughout 2022 so that we don’t fall victim to their success,” Sandy Magnus, a former NASA astronaut and member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said during the January meeting.
But so far, SpaceX has stuck to its schedule, with nothing but perfect missions this year. Ironically, SpaceX originally expected to launch today’s missions on Thursday, but stopped the countdown shortly after an abort was triggered less than a minute before liftoff. It was a rare miscarriage for SpaceX, which hasn’t had to interrupt a countdown in many months due to a technical problem. However, the company was able to take off today after an uninterrupted countdown.
A key factor enabling such a busy launch schedule is that for most of SpaceX’s launches this year, SpaceX is acting as its own customer. The company is using these launches to develop its massive Starlink constellation of the Internet from space, launching batches of up to 53 satellites at a time (although the numbers vary from launch to launch). Today’s flight from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California placed an additional 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, which carry cargo and people, to the International Space Station. The company also has its Transporter missions, in which multiple small satellites are packed up and deployed during a single mission. All of that, plus SpaceX’s commercial customers and launches for the Department of Defense, make for a busy manifest.
Nearly all of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets launched this year have been previously flown vehicles, as the company continues to master landing and reusing its rockets. SpaceX also exclusively flies the Block 5 version of its Falcon 9, which is optimized for reuse. Today’s rocket successfully landed on one of SpaceX’s unmanned craft after liftoff, marking the 125th landing of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Now that SpaceX has broken its record, the company is still going full steam ahead. There is already another mission scheduled for Sunday, July 24 from Florida, to launch another batch of Starlink satellites.