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SpaceX adds a new Falcon 9 booster to the fleet after recovering the drone ship

SpaceX added a second new Falcon 9 booster to its rocket fleet in just a month after the B1060 returned safely to the ground aboard the drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) on July 4th.

Exactly 31 days earlier, the Falcon 9 B1058 booster had sailed to Port Canaveral aboard the drone ship Naturally I Still Love You (OCISLY) on June 3 after becoming the first private rocket in history to launch astronauts into orbit. Prior to the successful launch and landing of B1058 on May 30, the fleet of boosters available for SpaceX’s flight appeared to be only three, consisting of B1049, B1051 and B1059. Presumably (relatively) easy to reconfigure in normal Falcon 9 boosters, the dual-flow Falcon B1

052 and B1053 side boosters remain wildcard characters that seem unlikely to return to circulation soon.

In other words, SpaceX has expanded its fleet of flight-tested Falcon 9 boosters by nearly 70% in a single month, no doubt bringing some welcome sighs of relief for the second half of the company’s launch manifest in 2020. Given how ambitious SpaceX’s plans are for the next six months, both boosters are set to become invaluable in the short term.

SpaceX safely returned the Falcon 9 B1060 booster to the ground after its first flight, adding a brand new booster to the fleet. (Richard Angle)

Postponed from June for unknown reasons, July could potentially be the busiest month of SpaceX launch ever. Starlink’s tenth general launch – also SpaceX’s second Starlink car ride – is about to take off with the Falcon 9 B1051 booster on its fifth flight no earlier than (NET) 11:59 EDT (16:59 UTC) July 8. Initially slated for June 22, B1051 no longer has a chance to break SpaceX’s booster reversal record, but it could snatch a tie with the Falcon 9 boosters B1048, B1052 and B1053 at 74 days between launches.

The B1051 returned to port for the last time on April 25th. (Richard Angle)

Subsequently, SpaceX will launch the South Korean military communications satellite ANASIS II as early as July 14th. Perhaps just 11 days later, another Falcon 9 rocket will attempt the first polar launch of the east coast of the United States in half a century with the Argentine radar satellite mission SAOCOM 1B. As of now, ANASIS II is expected to be launched on the B1058 booster according to Next Spaceflight, potentially crushing SpaceX’s 17-day turnaround record (> 25%). The Falcon 9 booster assigned to SAOCOM 1B remains a mystery at this point, although B1059 or B1049 are the obvious candidates, with B1060 in third place.

(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)
Falcon 9 B1060 rises from SpaceX’s LC-40 pad on June 30th. (Richard Angle)

Finally, SpaceX has another Starlink mission – Starlink V1 L10 – which is slated to launch no earlier than the end of July, likely flying on Falcon 9 B1049 or B1060.

In order for SpaceX to reach its target of 2-4 launches per month for the rest of the year, it appears that its recently expanded fleet of Falcon 9 boosters will have to beat regularly or at least break turnaround records in just a handful of weeks. For example, in July only, SpaceX will have to use four of its fleet of five boosters to complete the four planned launches, while the fifth booster was last launched on June 3, 13 or 30.

(Richard Angle)
(Richard Angle)
Falcon 9 B1060 will soon be raised on dry ground to be prepared for its next launch. (Richard Angle)

SpaceX has at least two other Starlink missions scheduled for August, which means that both B1051 and B1058 will need to be launched only 40-50 days later to support that cadence. Luckily, September is expected to bring some respite in the fourth quarter of 2020 if both the B1061 and B1062 Falcon 9 boosters will debut in mid-September (first operational launch of the Crew Dragon astronaut) and September 30 (GPS III SV04 ), respectively. If successfully recovered, SpaceX’s fleet will grow to seven upgrades, probably more than enough to sustain an average launch rate every 10-14 days.

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