SpaceX Nails 100th Falcon 9 Landing

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It used to be big news every time SpaceX landed a Falcon 9 booster because, of course, no one had ever done such a science-fictional thing with rockets before. Now, it’s becoming so commonplace that it’s easy to forget how many rockets SpaceX is launching. In the company’s final launch of 2021, the Falcon 9 successfully pushed its Dragon capsule into orbit and landed on a drone ship. That would be business as usual for SpaceX, except for one minor detail: this mission marked the 100th landing of a Falcon 9 booster, capping a year of incredible successes for the company. 

The milestone launch took place in the early hours of December 21st at NASA’s iconic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center. The Falcon 9 left the launchpad, releasing the second stage twelve minutes later. The second stage continued into space, and the Dragon capsule will reach the International Space Station tomorrow, completing the 24th SpaceX cargo run. 

Following the successful launch, the booster came back to Earth along its prescribed course to meet up with the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” for the 100th landing. The booster in question is B1069, and this was its first flight. However, SpaceX stressed that it flies mostly used first stage components now. In 2021, 78 of the 100 landings featured a refurbished booster. There were a total of 138 successful launches total (not all Falcon 9s are recoverable due to orbital and fuel considerations). When you account for all the launches, 94 percent were previously flown. 

Several of those launches included astronauts, a total of eight of them. NASA no longer needs to rely on Russian vehicles to reach the space station a decade after retiring the Shuttle. Plus, SpaceX completed the first all-civilian flight, and it still found time to deploy more than 800 Starlink satellites and launch NASA’s DART asteroid redirect mission. A big year, indeed. 

This is all a stark contrast to Boeing, which is the other entity in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. A series of bugs and hardware failures have delayed testing of the CST-100 by two years. Its last flight was in late 2019 when a glitch caused it to miss a planned rendezvous with the space station. Boeing was close to reflying that mission earlier this year, but multiple fuel valves failed, leading to months of testing, and now, redesigns. SpaceX goes into 2022 with an increasingly valuable heavy-lift rocket in the Falcon 9 and the potential for a successful super-heavy-lift in the Starship. 

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