SpaceX Falcon Rocket Makes 100th Consecutive Rocket Landing SpaceX has successfully launched its first batch of next-generation Starlink V2 satellites, potentially ushering in a new era of affordability for the constellation.
Simultaneously, the Starlink 6-1 launch culminated in the 100th consecutive successful landing of a Falcon rocket booster, showing how far SpaceX is ahead of its competitors and the rest of the spacefaring world.
As a result, SpaceX’s landing reliability rivals the launch reliability of some of the most reliable rockets ever built. This extraordinary feat bodes well for SpaceX’s next generation of Starship rockets, designed to carry humans to Earth, the Moon, Mars and beyond.
SpaceX’s landing reliability milestone is made all the more impressive by its lack of immediate competition. More than seven years after SpaceX’s first successful Falcon 9 booster landing and six years after the company’s first successful Falcon booster reuse, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are the only reusable orbital-class rockets still in operation.
Blue Origin has had some success reusing the first stage of its suborbital New Shepard rocket. Rocket Lab has also recovered small Electron rocket boosters from the sea, but it hasn’t yet made it to a helicopter – a need for cost-effective reuse. Several other companies have announced or begun developing partially or fully reusable rockets.
But even in the best-case scenario, the most promising of those potentially competing rockets are still a year or two away from their first launch attempts, let alone their first successful recovery and reuse.
SpaceX debuted the Falcon 9 rocket in June 2010 on the back of most of its successful booster recovery and reuse. SpaceX recovered the Falcon 9 booster for the first time in December 2015 and reused the (separated) booster for the first time in March 2017. it’s almost done. All risky development work during launch for paying customers.
Even after the first success, SpaceX continued to push the performance envelope and discovered new failure modes after several failed landing attempts. The Falcon’s most recent landing failure occurred during a Starlink launch in February 2021 and was caused by a hole in a flexible ‘skirt’ intended to keep Earth’s superheated atmosphere out of the flight-proven booster’s engine section.
However, every landing since Falcon 9’s Starlink-19 landing failure has been successful. On February 27, 2023, nearly two years after that failure, Falcon 9 booster B1076 touched down on one of SpaceX’s three drone ships, marking the rocket family’s 100th consecutive successful landing. Starlink 6-1 was also the 183rd consecutive successful launch of the Falcon family, as a Falcon landing failure has never prevented a mission from fulfilling its primary objective.
Launch-wise, the Falcon 9 and the Falcon family have already become the most reliable rockets in history. Very few rockets in history have made 100 consecutive successful launches, let alone landed. For example, according to spaceflight reporter Alejandro Romera, the next most reliable American rocket – the McDonnell Douglas Delta II – made 100 consecutive successful launches before its retirement in 2018.
The landing reliability of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket is thus tied to the reliability of the launch. The most reliable American rocket that SpaceX has not made. Additionally, SpaceX Falcon booster landings are now statistically more reliable than launches of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, which has (more or less) successfully launched 97 times.
Compared to the Falcon 9, Starship is 70% longer, 240% wider, 800% more capable, 900% heavier, 1000% more powerful and fully – partially reusable. The Falcon’s landing reliability is an encouraging sign for SpaceX’s next generation of Starship rockets. For Starship to fully achieve SpaceX’s goals, it will eventually need to be able to carry humans to Earth and other destinations throughout the solar system.
SpaceX currently has no plans to develop an independent crew escape system for Starship, which means the rocket will have to demonstrate exceptional overall reliability instead. SpaceX officials have said that Starship will be considered safe to launch humans only after it has completed “hundreds” of successful launches and possibly landings.
The Falcon has made 100 consecutive successful landings despite large gaps in redundancy. Most landing burns are performed with the Merlin 1D engine. Any kind of problem in that engine could have resulted in a failed landing. The Falcon booster consists of four landing legs and four grid fins which are operated by a single hydraulic pump. Failure of that pump or one of the four legs apparently ruined the earlier landing.
Starship’s larger size and added performance may provide more margin for error and allow for greater redundancy. But the Falcon has demonstrated that even a rocket with several glaring single-point-failures can achieve 100 consecutive successful landings.