SpaceX has been serious going into 2021 about doubling their launch count from last year. With already three launches since the start of the year, two of these three mark historic firsts for SpaceX and the industry. Sunday was a busy day in Cape Canaveral with both a record-breaking launch and a milestone booster return.
Transporter-1 debuts rideshare program
Sunday morning SpaceX launched its first dedicated rideshare mission carrying 143 satellites for numerous customers as well as 10 Starlink satellites deployed into a sun-synchronous orbit. This is the second polar orbit launch in recent history from the East Coast, and it shatters the record for most satellites launched in a single mission.
The mission named Transporter-1 marks the start of directly competing against the rising smallsat launcher market being led by Rocket Lab with new additions of Astra and Virgin Orbit in the last few months.
The Falcon 9 took off at 10 a.m. EST before deploying its Sherpa FX satellite deployer and Starlink satellites into a good 500 km (310 mi) polar orbit.
Life leading booster returned to port
One of the moments we mentioned to look out for was SpaceX pushing their life leading boosters to that 10 flight milestone. Before 2020 ended, SpaceX had two boosters that led the fleet in flight: B1049 and B1051 each saw 7 flights. Back on January 20, SpaceX pushed B1051’s flights to 8, becoming the most flown booster and the mission holding the fastest turnaround between flights at just 38 days between SXM-7 and Starlink 16.
B1051 returned to port shortly after the launch of Transporter-1, keeping reporters and SpaceX teams busy all Sunday.
Just a few years ago, days like Sunday could only be dreamed about in the space community. The craziness continues with Transporter-1’s booster returning to Port Canaveral later today. B1051 is already horizontal and about to head back onto Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to go through inspections and launch readiness for the 8th time.