CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX’s most flown rocket, a Falcon 9 booster that has flown nine times historically, returned home to Florida’s Port Canaveral after launching a batch of Starlink satellites early last week.
The Falcon 9 rocket – designated B1051 – returned to port on March 16. It appeared on the horizon and sailed slowly toward the canal late Tuesday afternoon, heading for its pier atop the Spacex drone ship “Of course I still love you.” The rocket launched 60 SpaceX Starlink satellites into orbit on March 14.
Small groups of spectators gathered at the port Tuesday night, hoping to catch a glimpse of the return of the reinforcement. The venue is not only a popular spot to watch the launch, but also a prime spot to view the returning ships and first stage boosters.
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A returning booster always draws a crowd, and today was no different. That’s because the arrival of the B1051 marked a special treat: the first time there was not one, but two thrusters in port.
The other rocket was B1058, a six-time flier, which took off on its own Starlink mission just days before the historic flight of the B1051. Perched on the other SpaceX drone ship “Just read the instructions “, the B1058 arrived in port on March 13.
In a grassy location near the SpaceX docks, a small audience was waiting to capture the triumphant arrival of B1051. As the drone parked in its glide, cameras clicked and excited onlookers chatted about the sooty exterior of the propeller.
The once completely white appearance of the thruster was marred, scorched and covered in soot from its multiple trips into space and vice versa, especially compared to the B1058.
After six flights, the NASA worm logo on B1058, which was once bright red, now appeared black, while the typically blue SpaceX logo on B1051 was barely visible between the burn marks.
As SpaceX’s most flown propellant, the B1051, it could make its 10th flight in the near future, a milestone SpaceX has been working on.
When SpaceX debuted its upgraded Falcon 9, company founder and CEO Elon Musk said each thruster could fly up to 10 times with little to no refurbishment in between. That is due to a update series added to the vehicle in 2018, which includes improved engines, a more durable intermediate stage (a connector between the first and second stages), titanium grille fins and a more robust thermal protection system.
This combination allows the Falcon 9 to better withstand the stresses of the launch. With each recovery, SpaceX has learned more and more about launch wear and tear.
Now that the Falcon 9 booster is back in port, it will unload and then prepare to travel. That’s as soon as B1058 moves. That thruster was laid flat on Wednesday so crews could transport it and move onto B1051.
SpaceX’s twin fairing receivers, GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief, are still in port, with no arms, while undergoing some sort of maintenance. Right now, SpaceX relies on two of its Dragon recovery boats (GO Searcher and GO Navigator) to get the fairings out of the ocean.
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