It turns out that Elon Musk can do more than just launch cars into space. His SpaceX venture just launched a record-breaking 64 satellites into orbit.
They also reused a rocket booster for the third time—an important breakthrough in making space travel more affordable in the future.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched from California’s Vandenberg Air Force base at 10:32 a.m. yesterday morning. The first-stage booster separated after 8 minutes of flight and landed easily on the waiting drone ship.
Being able to recover the booster—which SpaceX has now done for a third time—will help cut costs for future launches.
The booster previously helped launch rockets in May and August of this year, delivering payloads of satellites for Bangladesh and Indonesia.
This launch marks another milestone for private-sector spaceflight. Called a “rideshare mission,” SpaceX used a single launch to deliver satellites for multiple missions. The total weight was 8,800 pounds.
With 64 discrete satellites on board, this is the biggest launch ever by a US rocket. India launched a rocket containing 104 satellites last year, but it’s likely only a matter of time before SpaceX breaks that record, too.
Although SpaceX was in charge of the rocket, they partnered with a company called Spaceflight Industries to coordinate the “rideshare” cargo. 34 different organizations and companies from around the world claimed cargo space aboard the Falcon 9 rocket.
“Among the spacecraft onboard, 23 are from universities, 19 are imaging satellites, 23 are technology demonstrations, two are art exhibits, and one is from a high school,” an official from Spaceflight explained.
Among other things, it launched the ashes of 100 people in a memorial satellite and an experiment designed to grow tomatoes in orbit.
Yesterday’s successful launch marks the 19th rocket SpaceX has sent into orbit this year. And the company isn’t done yet. They plan to send up a Dragon cargo craft to the International Space Station later today. They also plan to conduct another launch on December 18, bringing the grand total up to 21.
It’s likely that Elon Musk’s private space venture will only continue to grow—and break more records.