SpaceX successfully launched 26 missions in 2020 including sending astronauts to International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules, the first orbital crewed missions to lift off from the United States. SpaceX has set a new record in launching a number of missions beating 2019’s record of 21.
All 26 missions launched by SpaceX this year employed the two-stage Falcon 9, which featured a reusable first stage, and 23 of those missions were successful in landing the first stage back on Earth safely, preserving it for the future to fly it again.
Demo-2, the first of the Crew Dragon Flight, was a test mission launched on May 30 with the mission to carry the two NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglass Hurley, for a two-month stay to the orbiting lab or International Space Station.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator Jim Bridenstine said after the launch of the Demo 2, “Today, a new era in human spaceflight begins as we once again launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on their way to the International Space Station, our national lab orbiting Earth.” He further added that the demonstration is a step towards the path of human exploration to the moon and Mars.
The success of Demo-2 led to another significant mission which was the Crew-1. Launched on November 15, 2020, it was dubbed as a “space taxi flight”. Crew-1 was the first operational space taxi flight for NASA taking off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on November 16, 2020, with a white Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew-1 called ‘Resilience’ carried four astronauts, three from NASA – Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi a Japanese astronaut to the ISS.
The intention of the Resilience was to orbit and return back to the Earth for a drone-ship landing in the Atlantic Ocean for a six-month stint. “Well done, that was one heck of a ride…Making history is definitely hard and you guys all made it look easy. Congratulations to everyone. Resilience is in orbit,” Mike Hopkins radioed to SpaceX flight controllers from orbit.
There have been two other missions to the International Space Station by SpaceX which flew uncrewed resupply flights that used the robotic cargo version of Dragon, launched in March and December.
SpaceX has also precisely launched 14 missions in support of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-internet project each of which lofted about 60 Starlink spacecraft to low Earth orbit. SpaceX also has plans to expand and make Starlink bigger. The company which has filed paperwork for up to 30,000 Starlink satellites has already received permission from the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 12,000 Starlink satellites.
However, SpaceX’s missions did not always meet with success. In the month of February and March 2020, there were two missed attempts by the Falcon 9 booster while returning back to the Earth. The Falcon 9 failed to land at sea on SpaceX’s robotic “drone ships”. SpaceX has two of these robotic “drone ships” in which there were 19 successful touchdowns. According to reports, there were only four touchdowns that took place on land.
The highlight of SpaceX’s success is the reusability of the Falcon 9 first stages as the company has flown the Falcon 9 booster seven times already, including two of the missions of Starlink that was launched on November 24 and December 13 that was a liftoff of a Sirius XM broadcasting satellite.
The SN8 or “Serial No.8” which is the latest prototype of Starship was launched on December 9, 2020. Although the SN8 prototype exploded because it came in too fast, Musk still considered the flight of the SN8 triumphant. SpaceX is developing this prototype to carry people to Mars or the moon and other such distant destinations. The year 2020 saw a significant step towards Elon Musk’s ultimate goal which is to colonize Mars.