There are a limited number of competitors in the space industry launching rockets into space. Success in the space industry isn’t calculated by how many successful launches but rather by how many successful consecutive launches.
The standard of ‘consecutive successful launches’ means that a relative newcomer to the industry has the potential to prove that its rockets are more reliable than rockets developed by companies that have performed thousands of flights.
Since 2020, the Falcon 9, owned by SpaceX, has been the most active rocket in the United States. Its track record of consecutive launch successes is now beginning to surpass older generations of rockets that had been in use since the 1950s.
Since December 2021, SpaceX has flown rockets at a rate greater than one mission a week. If this trend continues, Eric Berger reporting for arstechnica, writes, ‘the rocket could reach 500 flights before the end of this decade.’
With Soyuz-U and Delta II rockets becoming obsolete (the rockets that currently hold the records for the most consecutive successful launch missions), the Falcon 9 is just a few launches away from having and continuing to break the record as the safest rocket in the world.
Soyuz is the rocket with most launches to date
The type of rocket with the most launches to date is the Soyuz rocket. The ‘Soyuz is a family of expendable Russian and Soviet carrier rockets developed by OKB-1 and manufactured by Progress Rocket Space Centre in Samara, Russia.‘
The Soyuz ‘has had more than 1,900 launches across about a dozen variants of booster dating back to 1957, with more than 100 failures.’
The Soyuz-U rocket, until recently, set the record for consecutive successful launches. The Soyuz-U had 112 consecutive successful launches between 11 July 1990 and 5 May 1996.
Soyuz-U was declared obsolete in April 2015, and its production was stopped. It performed one final mission on 22 February 2017.
The Falcon 9 may soon surpass the 112 consecutive successful launches of the Soyuz-U.
Delta II almost has as many successful consecutive launches as the Soyuz rocket
Delta rockets have been carrying NASA spacecraft aloft since the 1960s, and the Delta II built by Boeing has a long history of successful launches. The Delta launch vehicles were initially built by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation and, since 1997, by the Boeing Company.
The last Delta II rocket was launched on 15th September 2018. Over 29 years, the Delta II rocket launched 155 times with 100 consecutive successful missions.
A new record of successful consecutive launches may soon be set by Falcon 9
To date, SpaceX has completed a run of 111 successful Falcon 9 missions in a row, surpassing Delta II’s 110 consecutive mission successes.
If SpaceX’s next launch of the Falcon 9 is a success, it will equal the record set by the Soyuz-U. This will mean that in under 12 years, SpaceX will have equaled/exceeded the Soyuz-U and Delta II rockets for consecutive mission successes.
A great launch record
SpaceX has built an excellent track record for launching Falcon 9 rockets since June 2010. Wikipedia states ‘rockets from the Falcon 9 family have been launched 143 times, with 141 complete mission successes, one partial failure and one total loss of the spacecraft.’
Other prototype rockets developed by SpaceX haven’t been as successful. ‘Starship SN4 had a fiery explosion on May 29, 2020, very soon after a rocket engine test. The dramatic failure happened only a minute after a short test of its Raptor rocket engine, but immediately after the explosion, it was unclear what caused the conflagration.’
SpaceX continued to focus on the Falcon 9, with 31 successful launches in 2021, 10 of those in December 2021.
What is particularly impressive about the Falcon 9 is that SpaceX is regularly able to reuse parts from previous missions. This is a strong indication that the parts made for the rocket are very reliable.
‘SpaceX regularly lands the boosters – the largest and most expensive part of the rocket – and then launches again.’
Wikipedia states ‘According to Elon Musk, almost every piece of the Falcon should be reused over 100 times. Heat shields and a few other items should be reused over ten times before replacement.’
Lower to insure than other space missions
CNBC reports, ‘SpaceX is launching more often than any other country or company. CEO Elon Musk touted low insurance costs as proof of the improving reliability of his company’s Falcon 9 rockets.’
Elon Musk was proud to tweet “Last I checked, over a million dollars less … to insure a Falcon 9 mission,”
An ambitious company
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, stated ‘in June 2016 that the first uncrewed MCT Mars flight was planned for departure in 2022, to be followed by the first crewed MCT Mars flight departing in 2024.’ Since then, these missions have been postponed several times, and any official launch date has yet to be announced.
For the crew of SpaceX’s sake, let’s hope that the Falcon 9 and other rocket technology developed by SpaceX to reach Mars continues to break records as the world’s most reliable rocket and doesn’t hit the same issues as the Starship SN4.