As of 2023, Elon Musk’s company has completed an impressive 74 orbital missions, surpassing the record of any other private entity in a single year. SpaceX previously held the record with 61 orbital missions launched in 2022. Nevertheless, further growth in space flight activity is expected in the next 2.5 months.
During a hearing before the US Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science, Bill Gerstenmeier, vice president of flight development and reliability at SpaceX, announced Wednesday (October 18) that they plan to complete 100 flights this year.
During the hearing, titled “Promoting Security, Innovation, and Competitiveness in U.S. Commercial Space Activities,” he outlined his expectations for the coming year. He said the goal is to increase the number of flights to about 12 per month, bringing the total to 144.
To reach this year’s milestone of the hundredth launch, it is necessary to increase the frequency of launches significantly. Specifically, the current rate of one mission every 3.9 days should increase to one mission every 2.8 days.
Accomplishing multiple missions in one day is no easy task, but SpaceX is undoubtedly capable. To demonstrate this capability, the company has successfully launched two missions on the same day several times. One such occasion occurred in March 2022, when SpaceX launched two Falcon 9 rockets less than 4.5 hours apart.
SpaceX has a large number of payloads waiting to be launched. The company is building its Starlink constellation of Internet satellites, of which approximately 5,000 are currently operational. However, SpaceX is authorized to deploy up to 12,000 Starlink satellites and has applied for authorization to launch an additional 30,000 spacecraft.
The majority of SpaceX’s launches in 2023, approximately 60%, were for missions involving Starlink.
SpaceX has primarily relied on its trusty Falcon 9 for most of its orbital missions thus far, while the Falcon Heavy has been deployed for the rest. Among those missions, the Falcon Heavy has been launched eight times, four of which occurred this year.
SpaceX is developing the Starship, a colossal successor to their proven rockets. Unlike Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, whose upper stages are disposable, Starship is designed to be fully and quickly reusable.
Musk claims that Starship, the most massive and powerful rocket ever built, will make it financially viable to colonize Mars and conduct other daring exploration missions. SpaceX has launched only one Starship mission, a test launch on April 20, 2023. Unfortunately, the spacecraft encountered various problems shortly after liftoff, leading to a controlled explosion.
Banner image: The SpaceX Starship takes off in Boca Chica, Texas, on April 20. Credit: Joe Skipper/Reuters.