SpaceX comes very close to meeting goal of 100 orbital launches in a year

emorphy

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The big picture: SpaceX had a total of 98 successful missions in 2023, far more than its nearest competitors. It will start out 2024 with a January 2 launch of a Falcon 9 with a payload of 21 Starlink satellites, some of which will have the first Direct to Call capabilities.

Every four days over the last 12 months SpaceX sent a rocket into orbit, for a total of 98 successful missions, topping its previous record of 61 orbital launches in 2022 and coming within striking distance of founder Elon Musk's goal of 100 launches for 2023.

It ended the year with an ambitious two launches last Thursday, sending two rockets into orbit from Florida. The first was a Falcon Heavy, carrying the US military's X-37B space plane – which does not have a crew and operates autonomously – from a launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to unprecedented altitudes where it will conduct cutting-edge research. The second was the Falcon 9, which blasted off a few miles to the south carrying 23 Starlink Internet satellites.

In all, SpaceX closed the year with 98 flights that included 91 Falcon 9s, five Falcon Heavy rockets and two test launches of the Super Heavy-Starship rocket. The company might well have met Musk's goal of 100 launches had it not been for bad weather and some technical problems with the last Falcon Heavy launch.

Musk and his team might be disappointed, but not when put into the larger context of what its competitors accomplished in 2023. Rocket Lab USA launched its 42nd Electron rocket in mid-December, marking its 10th orbit for the year and making the Electron the second most frequently launched U.S. rocket annually. It deployed a satellite for Japan-based Earth imaging company the Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space.

Another competitor, United Launch Alliance had three missions this year with a total of 158 under its belt, with its latest in October when the Atlas V rocket carrying the Protoflight mission for Amazon's Project Kuiper lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Protoflight launch was the first mission in a broader commercial partnership between ULA and Amazon to launch the majority of the Project Kuiper constellation.

SpaceX will waste no time in the new year for additional flights. It is planning a January 2 launch of a Falcon 9 with a payload of 21 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This launch will include the first six Starlink satellites with Direct to Call capabilities that will enable mobile network operators around the world to provide global access to Internet and phone services.

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