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SpaceX launches 53 Starlink satellites on a new Falcon 9 rocket

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another 53 Starlink satellites, the company’s second launch in less than 24 hours.

The most newsworthy component of this launch is that for first time since February 2, 2022, and only the fourth time since the beginning of 2020, the Falcon 9 rocket used a new first stage, which successfully landed on its drone ship in the Atlantic. It appears that SpaceX is adding about two new boosters per year to its first stage fleet, based on the evidence from these launches.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

20 SpaceX
15 China
6 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 28 to 15 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 28 to 24.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Ian C.

    The U.S. now leads (…) the entire world combined 28 to 24.

    Y’Americans better watch out, we Yuropoors are gonna eat your lunch. (Provided you feed us some.)

  • Skunk Bucket

    SpaceX is on pace to launch fifty times this year. If they continue at that frequency and only bring on two new boosters a year, they’ll need to use each one… (works difficult math problem…) twenty-five times. I don’t know if that’s SpaceX’s plan, but it would be awesome if the Falcon 9 is capable of that. If not, well maybe that means that Elon has confidence that Starship will be ready to pick up the load before the supply of Falcons becomes a problem.

  • geoffc

    I think your math and understanding is a bit off…
    There is a fleet of used boosters, and they accept some will be lost or expended over the course of a year, so they need to bring in fresh blood every so often.

    Current fleet with more than 5 flights is something like:
    B1051 – 12 flights
    B1058 – 12
    B1060 – 12
    B1049 – 10
    B1061 – 7
    B1062 – 6
    B1063 – 5

    There are a couple more under 5 flights. B1049 is going to be expended on an upcoming mission to boost performance. Some of the 12 flight boosters are going to be taken out of service at 15 flights, to dissasemble and try to learn what is wearing out, and what they can improve to get to more flights per booster.

    There are close to 10 active boosters, (not counting Falcon Heavy boosters) and so for 50 flights a year, that is more like 5 per core. But it of course still varies. They did seem to want to push some of the boosters past 10 flights quickly (it appears).

  • Col Beausabre

    There is something I don’t understand here

    “The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

    20 SpaceX
    15 China
    6 Russia
    3 Rocket Lab
    2 ULA

    The U.S. now leads China 28 to 20 in the national ranking”

    Is the Chinese figure 15 or 20?

  • Ray Van Dune

    Interesting thing I heard in an Everyday Astronaut interview with Elon and his chief rocket designer (who must have a thick hide indeed) is that Starship (SH+SS) will have a takeoff thrust/weight ratio of roughly 1.5, meaning it is going to leap off the pad quite smartly, unlike its next largest ancestors the Saturn 5 and N-1, that sort of moved off pretty slowly! Wow, I can’t wait to see that!

  • Col Beausabre: Typo on my part. Should have been 15. Fixed. Thank you.

  • Richard M

    20 launches so far! That comes out to one launch every 6.75 days!

    It’s not even impossible they could *increase* that cadence, since all of the pads have been getting upgrades to allow more rapid processing over the last several months.

    What SpaceX has accomplished in just 20 years of existence is nothing short of spectacular. But what is sobering is that if Starship comes even remotely close to Musk’s aspirations for it, what we are seeing now could be only a taster of the space dominance to come.

  • Richard M


    What’s interesting is that, according to a report I saw yesterday, is that SpaceX’s plan is to pull the launch leader boosters from active duty once they hit 15 launches, so that they can do a deep dive into how the systems are holding up, and then return them to duty.

    But that’s one reason why they’ve started adding new first stage boosters to the mix, so that they are in a position to sustain their high launch cadence when they pull the launch leaders out for examination later this year. As is, the plan apparently is to expend the first stage on the Nilesat launch next month.

  • Col Beausabre

    “What’s interesting is that, according to a report I saw yesterday, is that SpaceX’s plan is to pull the launch leader boosters from active duty once they hit 15 launches, so that they can do a deep dive into how the systems are holding up, and then return them to duty.”

    Reconditioning launchers brought to mind an old memory. I learned in Classics 22 “Life in Ancient Greece” that they had a philosophy (of course) problem called the “Ship of Theseus”

    “The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment about whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. Theseus was the mythical Greek founder-king of Athens, and the question was raised by ancient philosophers (e.g. Heraclitus and Plato): If the ship of Theseus were kept in a harbor and every part on the ship were replaced one at a time, would it then be a new ship?

    Some follow-up questions are common: If it is not the same ship, then at what point did it stop being the ship
    of Theseus? If it is the same ship, then could all the removed pieces be reassembled to form a ship, and would that be the ship of Theseus?”

    Darn pesky ancient Greeks!

  • sippin_bourbon


    I am familiar with that thought experiment also. And to indulge a bit…

    I think in modern terms, the hull of a vessel, and in the case of aircraft, the airframe, I think would be a defining factor. Unlike the Ship of Theseus, which undoubtedly was considered during the days of wooden vessels, the hull planking, the frames and strakes, and even the keel itself were subject to rot and wear and thus were needing of replacement. Vessels and aircraft get re-engined all the time. Very common.

    Modern vessels are a little more durable, and there is a point where it is not cost effective to replace entire hulls, frames, strakes, etc. With airframes the fuselage seems to be the same. Just build a new one. It will be cheaper.

    Translating this to a Falcon 9:
    -Is the shell the same as a hull or airframe (this is re-used, as we see the scorch marks)?
    -What about the tanks (they are pretty integral to the structure, like frames and strakes)?
    -The Merlin engines (They do re-use these, as they had an issue with re-used engines causing launch pad aborts until they change procedures for cleaning them post-mission)?

    Sadly this question is harder because exactly how much is replaced during an F9 refurb is not publicly available.

  • Mike Borgelt

    Even more spooky is that the molecules in your body get replaced over time and you are still you.

  • Jeff Wright

    I hope SpaceX builds more boosters and more pads across the world if Starship/SuperHeavy fails.

    I want so many of these things that you could conceivably have a launch from anywhere at any moment and catch threat nations off guard…not knowing where to look for plumes..

  • Richard M

    The USS Constitution is getting pretty close to Ship of Theseus territory . . . last estimate I saw was that only 10% of the wood and components are original at this point.

  • Richard M

    As for Falcon 9, my sense is that very, very little actually gets replaced on boosters at this point; that most of what SpaceX crews are doing is more in the nature of checks of how systems and structures are holding up. It’s hard to see how it could be otherwise, if their turnaround times are now down to just a few weeks rather than several months.

    But this is why Elon calls rapid, complete reusability the holy grail of rocketry. That’s what you need if you really want to bring the cost of access to space down. That’s what Starship needs to accomplish. And that’s why the savviest competitors (Rocket Lab and Relativity) are now trying to do much the same thing, too.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Richard , I think the HMS Victory is also in the same state. About 17% original, according some sites on the interwebs.

  • Edward

    Skunk Bucket’s math is correct, given the parameters. Fifty flights per year, only 25 flights from each booster, means that the steady state replacement rate is two per year. The fleet can be much larger than that, but the average replacement rate remains the same, and well managed the fleet should keep a steady pace on the factory, otherwise things get weird at the factory. (This math and analysis assumes that Falcon is not replaced by Starship.)

    Should SpaceX discover that a booster only lasts for 15 flights, then the replacement rate would be three and a third per year.

    It is interesting that SpaceX plans to examine and evaluate their boosters at 15 flights. It shows that they are planning to learn what they can about increasing the longevity of their flight hardware. Since they did a similar examination at 10 flights, it seems that they are planning to do it for every five additional flights of their boosters.

    What is the replacement rate if a booster lasts 100 flights?

    What size booster fleet do they need if a booster can be turned around in three weeks? How do these numbers change if they increase their cadence to 75 flights a year? 100 flights a year?

    What happens when Starship becomes operational? As Starship ramps up, Falcon 9 ramps down. Will Crew Dragon continue to be used to transport to the commercial space stations or will they dock the 100-ton Starships to them? Having such a large and heavy spacecraft docked to relatively small space stations could be a strain on the space stations’s attitude control systems.

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