SpaceX continues to break records with its Falcon rockets during 2024 completing to date a total of 67 missions so far and putting the company on track to complete 135 launches by the end of it. SpaceX also unveiled a new extravehicular activity suit, completed several missions for the US and foreign governments, as well as started operational deployment of Starlink Direct to Cell and Starshield satellites. 

SpaceX’s Starship rocket also performed its fourth flight, successfully completing a full mission from launch to soft landing of both stages on the water. The company is also making great progress in building a second Starship launch pad in South Texas while pushing through regulatory milestones for Starship launchpads at Launch Complex 39A and Space Launch Complex 37 in Florida.

Over the following months, SpaceX is aiming to increase its cadence of Falcon missions even further, dealing with the incoming hurricane season, and preparing for another Starship flight. This flight is also set to feature the first-ever recovery attempt of a Super Heavy booster back at the company’s launch site in Starbase, Texas.

Falcon and Dragon

During the second quarter of 2024, SpaceX’s Falcon family of rockets completed a total of 36 missions, adding to the 31 launches completed during the first quarter and totaling 67 missions in 2024 so far. This number of missions accomplished is already higher than the number of missions SpaceX completed just two years ago in 2022 which was 61.

These 36 missions accounted for 58 percent of all orbital launches worldwide between April and June, continuing the trend of being the most active rocket family in the world. This number more than doubles the number of launches by the second country in the world with the most launches, China, which completed 16 missions during the same period. 

Launcher origin
Launches
Successes
Failures
Partial Failures

US
SpaceX
67
67
0
0

Others
11
11
0
0

China
30
29
0
1

Russia
8
8
0
0

Japan
3
2
1
0

India
2
2
0
0

Iran
2
2
0
0

North Korea
1
0
1
0

TOTAL
124
121
2
1

Table showing the share of launches per place of origin of the launcher and their outcomes as of June 30, 2024

This record-breaking cadence keeps SpaceX on track to complete 135 launches by the end of 2024, an increase of 10 launches from the projection in NSF’s article at the end of the first quarter of the year. This increase comes as a result of a large surge in the launch cadence accomplished by the company during this second quarter of the year. 

This included launching 14 Falcon 9 missions in a single calendar month during May, the most that SpaceX has been able to accomplish to date. This cadence was accomplished thanks, once again, to record-breaking launchpad turnarounds and droneship turnarounds. 

Falcon 9 launching 23 @Starlink satellites from Florida on our 14th launch in May. Congratulations to the entire SpaceX team on continuously raising the bar for rapid and reliable launch pic.twitter.com/3oufCIinUR

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 1, 2024

The three turnaround goals

In early 2023, SpaceX teams at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) set three different turnaround time goals for this launchpad to be accomplished at different points in time. The first one was aiming to accomplish a turnaround time between missions of under four days, something the company achieved already later in the year in August 2023.

The second goal was aimed at lowering this turnaround time further to just under 69 hours by March 2024, with the intention that this would mean a turnaround time of less than three days. While SpaceX did not achieve this in March 2024, the company did accomplish this goal just a month later between the Starlink Group 6-48 and Starlink Group 6-49 missions with a turnaround time of exactly 68 hours. 

The company would once again break this record in June with a turnaround time of 67 hours and 40 minutes between the SES-24/Astra-1P and the Starlink Group 10-3 missions. The third and more challenging goal for the teams will now be to shrink this down to under two days by 2025.

Previous record
New record

Space Launch Complex 40
3d 17h 24min
2d 19h 40min

Space Launch Complex 4E
5d  5h 22min 20s
4d 12h

Table comparing record turnaround times at SLC-40 and SLC-4E between NSF’s last SpaceX quarterly roundup and June 30, 2024

In April 2024, SpaceX also broke its turnaround time record at Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) in Vandenberg with a four-and-a-half-day turnaround time between the Starlink Group 8-1 and USSF-62 missions. 

Marine assets

The company also continued its record-breaking use of its marine assets during the second quarter of 2024. In May, SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG) supported two separate landing and recovery campaigns just three and a half days in between, beating the previous drone ship turnaround record by one whole day.

This landing is special because the recovery team just chattered our fastest ever landing to landing turn. Roughly 84 hours between two booster touchdowns on ASOG. It traveled roughly 640 nautical miles in that time with only 3.5 hrs at the dock to drop off a rocket.

Unreal!!!… https://t.co/M7t5GGFNWq

— Kiko Dontchev (@TurkeyBeaver) June 1, 2024

Ever since the end of last year, SpaceX has been using the Signet Warhorse III tug to move the drone ship in and out to the landing zone. This tug is much more powerful than the ones that the company had been using, which also included the use of the multipurpose recovery vessels Bob and Doug. Under the power of this tug, SpaceX’s East Coast drone ships can move across the ocean at an average speed of eight to nine knots, with peak speeds of up to 12 knots, even when a Falcon 9 booster is on the deck. 

But with only one tug like this, it meant that only one drone ship could benefit from these increased speeds at one time. However, in May 2024, SpaceX hired another similarly powerful tug, Signet Warhorse I, which is now being used in parallel to its sister tug. With both tugs now in use, both East Coast drone ships can travel back and forth to their landing sites much more quickly. A secondary effect of this is that now these droneships can spend slightly more time at Port Canaveral than before and still accomplish a fast turnaround because they don’t take as much time to travel as they did in the past. 

Reuse records

The second quarter of 2024 also saw the first time a Falcon 9 booster hit the 20-flight milestone. The booster that hit this milestone, B1062, also became the first to reach 21 and 22 flights during this quarter, achieving an average cadence of one flight per month. As of the time of writing, another three boosters, B1060, B1061, and B1067, have all reached or surpassed the 20-flight mark. 

The lord of soot hath graced us.

Falcon 9 booster B1062 returns to Port Canaveral aboard Just Read the Instructions following its record breaking 22nd flight, Starlink 10-3.

@NASASpaceflight

https://t.co/pWsv50gmvY pic.twitter.com/4QHVCCzC0C

— Max Evans (@_mgde_) June 29, 2024

One of these boosters, B1060, was expended on its 20th flight during the Galileo FM25-FM27 mission due to the demanding performance conditions imposed by the mission. Another booster, B1087, was also expended on its first and only flight supporting the GOES-U mission as the center core for the Falcon Heavy rocket that carried that mission out.

Two new boosters joined the fleet during the second quarter of 2024, B1072 and B1086, which supported the GOES-U mission as the Falcon Heavy side boosters. Another booster, B1085, was also tested at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. It has been shipped to Florida where it is believed to be flown on the upcoming Crew-9 mission for NASA.

Fairing separation confirmed. Today’s mission marks our first 20th flight of a fairing half! pic.twitter.com/dV7zZEhwU4

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 23, 2024

This booster fleet has also been complemented by SpaceX’s fairing fleet. The Starlink Group 10-2 mission in June featured the first time a fairing half was flown for a 20th time, the most currently known for a fairing half. Earlier in May, another fairing half was turned around in less than 13 days which is the shortest turnaround time known for a fairing half. 

SpaceX rarely updates on the status of its fairing fleet but, notably, no fairing halves were lost or expended during the second quarter of the year and only two missions used new fairing halves. The company also used flight-proven fairings on a National Security Space Launch (NSSL) mission for the first time on the USSF-62 mission

Cadence struggles

While all of this has been a favorable factor in SpaceX’s goal to achieve 148 launches by the end of the year, there have been several struggles with Falcon’s cadence during June.

A rare T-0 abort from Falcon 9!https://t.co/NOPNFdHLtQ pic.twitter.com/EOWmamruNY

— Chris Bergin – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) June 14, 2024

During the middle of this month, SpaceX experienced several delays to the Starlink Group 10-2 mission due to bad weather in Florida. This mission was later postponed due to an issue at engine startup that needed the inspection and replacement of the booster that was supposed to launch this mission, B1073. Following this delay, SpaceX also prioritized a customer mission, SES-24/Astra-1P, further delaying any launch from Florida. The mission was later launched successfully using a different booster, B1078.

Due to this, SpaceX experienced the longest gap between launches from Florida since last year at almost 13 days between Starlink Group 10-1 and the launch of SES-24. The weather at Vandenberg was more favorable though, which meant the company was able to complete a mission from its west coast launch site before that SES mission. 

All in all, this turned out to be the longest gap between any SpaceX launches since December 2023 at about 10.5 days in between the Starlink Group 8-8 mission and the Starlink Group 9-1 mission. Coincidentally, this was also the first time any two SpaceX launches had happened back to back from Vandenberg. 

As the Atlantic Ocean enters hurricane season, the weather will play a larger role in SpaceX’s ability to keep up the cadence, potentially having to adjust the liftoff time of missions several times to try and find a gap in the weather. However, SpaceX’s Vice President of Falcon Launch Vehicles thinks the company still has a good chance of hitting its goal of flying 148 times this year and potentially even more than that. 

We still have a good shot at 148. In fact, we may even try to do a few more this year.

— Jon Edwards (@edwards345) June 18, 2024

Notable missions past and future

SpaceX supported nine customer missions during the second quarter of 2024, once again becoming the commercial launch company with the most customer flights during that period. The nine customer missions between April and June 2024 added to the 11 customer missions performed during the first quarter of the year totals 20 customer missions for 2024.

These nine missions included the first launch of Europe’s Galileo global navigation satellites onboard Falcon 9 as a result of the ongoing delays with the development of Ariane 6. This rocket, while set to debut no earlier than July 9, will probably not be ready to carry these Galileo satellites until at least next year. SpaceX also launched EarthCARE, an Earth observation satellite jointly developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). 

Farewell, sooty soldier

Falcon 9 booster B1060.20 launches the Galileo L12 mission from LC-39A on its final journey into the black.

It has served the world of spaceflight well.

@NASASpaceflight

https://t.co/HamT7DB57a pic.twitter.com/9a2w6aEcMr

— Max Evans (@_mgde_) April 28, 2024

This satellite also suffered a change of rockets from Soyuz to Vega C and then to Falcon 9 as a result of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and development struggles with Vega C. Additionally, the latter rocket would have needed a fairing modification to be able to accommodate EarthCARE, which made the change to Falcon 9 much more sensible. 

SpaceX also performed the first Bandwagon mission as part of its Smallsat Rideshare Program, bringing 11 rideshare payloads into a mid-inclination low-Earth orbit. The company also carried out the 10th flight of Falcon Heavy lifting the GOES-U satellite into an enhanced geosynchronous transfer orbit for the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Falcon Heavy defys the weather odds to launch GOES-U. @NASASpaceflight launch round-up:https://t.co/pEUMubiLiN pic.twitter.com/gwbaOVSVQr

— Julia Bergeron (@julia_bergeron) June 25, 2024

Coming up in the next quarter, there are at least another 11 confirmed customer missions on tap for SpaceX’s Falcon family of rockets. Perhaps the most notable one will be the long-awaited Polaris Dawn flight which will carry Jared Isaacman, Scott Poteet, Sarah Gillis, and Anna Menon into a high apogee low-Earth orbit. During this mission, Isaacman and Gillis will perform an extravehicular activity (EVA) from Crew Dragon Resilience, becoming the first commercial EVA and the first to be carried out from a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX unveiled the EVA suit to be used during this mission earlier this year which sports improved mobility over the regular Crew Dragon suit. It also includes other enhancements such as a heads-up display and a camera incorporated onto the helmet.

This won’t be the only Crew Dragon mission set to take place in the next quarter as SpaceX is expected to fly NASA’s Crew-9 crew rotation mission to the International Space Station (ISS) sometime in August. The company will also support the launch of Northrop Grumman’s NG-21 Cygnus resupply spacecraft to the ISS around that time. This will be further followed later into the quarter by the launch of the company’s CRS-31 Cargo Dragon mission to the orbiting outpost. 

SpaceX is also set to launch in this quarter the second pair of WorldView Legion satellites for Maxar, the Turksat 6A communications satellite, the Astranis Block 2 satellite mission, and the two satellites from Space Norway’s Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission Program. The company will also continue with its Smallsat Rideshare Program launching the Transporter-11 mission in July from Vandenberg.

Next stop, Florida!

The #Cygnus service module for the upcoming NG-21 mission launch is on its way to @NASAKennedy: https://t.co/ILlmyt00rp#Resupply pic.twitter.com/MBcafa9SMw

— Northrop Grumman (@northropgrumman) June 28, 2024

SpaceX is once again expected to take up payloads into orbit from foreign governments. Falcon 9 is set to launch another pair of Galileo global navigation satellites for the European Commission and the GSAT-20 communications satellite for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). 

Two yet-to-be-confirmed missions may take place in the next quarter as well. These are the NROL-69 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office and the first operational flight of AST SpaceMobile’s BluBird satellites. 

Starlink and Starshield

However, the majority of flights in the second quarter of the year were Starlink missions. SpaceX performed 27 Starlink flights during that period which added to the 20 Starlink missions performed during the first quarter of the year totals 47 Starlink launches in 2024 so far.

These 27 Starlink missions featured the operational deployment of the company’s Starlink Direct to Cell satellite constellation. These missions also feature the first launches of Starlink Groups 8, 9, and 10, as well as the return of northeasterly trajectories for Starlink launches from Florida. SpaceX also has seemingly stopped launching Starlink Group 6 and Starlink Group 7 missions in favor of these new groups that have debuted.

Excited to have reached the 90 satellite mark with the @Starlink Direct to Cell constellation! Thrilled with how quickly we’re deploying and how soon we will be able to serve customers with ubiquitous connectivity directly to their phones! https://t.co/jtwHl9AnKG

— Sara Spangelo (@sara_spangelo) June 24, 2024

While named differently, Starlink Group 8 and Starlink Group 9 missions appear to be the same with both types of missions launching a set of Starlink v2 Mini and Starlink Direct to Cell satellites to a 53-degree inclination low-Earth orbit. While yet to be confirmed, it could be that the Starlink Direct to Cell satellites launched on each of these groups will be operating at different altitudes which would explain the different group number used. 

As for Starlink Group 10 missions, these also appear to be very similar to Starlink Group 7 missions, launching a batch of Starlink v2 Mini satellites into a 53-degree inclination low-Earth orbit. Just like with the previous two Starlink mission groups, it may be that these will eventually operate at a different altitude and therefore need to be grouped into different missions but this is yet to be confirmed.

Starlink Gen 1
Starlink Gen 2

Missions
v1.0, Groups 2, 3, and 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7
Group 8
Group 9
Group 10

Orbit
540-570 km, 53-97.6º
530 km at 43º
525 km at 53º
525 km at 53º
Unknown altitude 53º
Unknown altitude 53º

Satellites launched
4015
699
1387
389
101
40
67

Satellites reentered
436
12
29
2
0
0
0

Satellites in operational orbit
340
683
820
309
7
0
0

(Status of Starlink constellation from Jonathan McDowell data as of June 30 2024)

The second quarter of 2024 also featured two customer missions using SpaceX’s Starshield satellite design, the company’s solution for government satellite applications using the Starlink satellite bus. These two missions were the NROL-146 and NROL-186 missions for the National Reconnaissance Office carrying 42 satellites for the agency’s Proliferated Space Architecture surveillance satellite constellation. 

Not much is openly known about this constellation other than SpaceX is the main satellite contractor with Northrop Grumman supplying sensors and other payloads that go on these satellites. The agency says it expects to fly approximately six of these missions in total throughout 2024 with many more expected to take place up until 2028 — although the exact number is not known, it could be in the dozens of missions. 

Starlink satellites were once again in the spotlight during Starship’s fourth flight which provided uncut footage of the rocket’s both stages ascent and descent portions during the mission.

Starship

Starship’s fourth flight saw Ship 29 and Booster 11 fully completing their missions from launch to soft splashdown in the water — a first for the Starship program.

Both vehicles completed their ascent burns successfully — despite one engine shutting down during Booster 11’s ascent — and separated nominally with another successful hot-staging separation of ship and booster. 

Booster 11 successfully completed its boostback and landing burns softly touching down in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico approximately seven minutes after liftoff. While an engine appeared to have been lost during the landing burn, Super Heavy’s engine-out capability allowed the booster to complete the burn with a precise soft splashdown within the target location. 

Super Heavy landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico pic.twitter.com/lnjCSk2Cz6

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 8, 2024

Ship 29 continued with its nearly-orbital trajectory to the Indian Ocean successfully controlling its attitude through the coast phase in space before reentry. Approximately 45 minutes into the mission, Ship 29 started experiencing atmospheric reentry and successfully survived through the entire plasma phase, demonstrating successful control of its attitude during hypersonic, supersonic, and transonic regimes. 

This was not without issues, though, the spacecraft suffered major damage on its starboard forward flap due to plasma seeping through the gap between the flap and the ship’s body. SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk later confirmed that the other flaps on the ship suffered some damage as well but it was not as severe as the one seen during the broadcast. 

Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!

Congratulations @SpaceX team on an epic achievement!! https://t.co/UnXbnmZ2pE

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 6, 2024

Despite this damage, Ship 29 successfully re-ignited its three Raptor sea-level engines and landed softly and vertically in the Indian Ocean, marking the first time the upper stage of an inline rocket had gone through orbital reentry and softly touched down on Earth. Musk later confirmed that the spacecraft touched down a few kilometers off target due to the flap damage.

Building upon the success of this flight, SpaceX is now gearing up for the fifth flight of the world’s most powerful rocket. This will feature Booster 12 and Ship 30 as the pair of vehicles to fly on this mission. SpaceX is aiming to improve upon the experience of Starship’s fourth flight with the first recovery attempt of a Super Heavy booster back on the launch pad and a revamped heat shield for the Starship upper stage that should ensure no damage is incurred during reentry.

The company has already begun working and testing the chopstick arms attached to the Starship launch tower that will serve as the landing pad for Booster 12. This involved a series of impact and alignment tests with a test tank, B14.1, that simulated the top portion of the booster.

Ship 30’s heat shield is in the middle of a process of a major overhaul, with the previously installed tiles being removed and a new set of tiles of newer design being installed instead. Elon Musk claims these new tiles have twice the strength of the older tiles, meaning that they’ll be less susceptible to cracks or break up during flight. 

SpaceX teams are also installing a new ablative material underneath the tiles on some portions of the vehicle. This material would act as a backup heat shield in case one of these tiles were to crack, break, or fall off from Ship 30, further ensuring the vehicle’s survivability during its upcoming flight. 

While no mishap investigation is required as a result of the success during Starship’s fourth flight, the vehicle’s launch license with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may need a modification to include the landing back at the pad of Booster 12. 

During the last quarter, SpaceX also gave several updates on the near and long-term future of the Starship program, including information for an upgraded version of Starship often dubbed as Starship version 2 or Block 2. This version will feature slightly longer Ships and Boosters with more propellant capacity, higher reliability, and higher thrust.

SpaceX has already begun pathfinding hardware for this version at the company’s facilities in Starbase, Texas. Given the observed hardware for Starship version 2, it is expected that Ship version 2 will come first and then later down the line, SpaceX will transition booster production to the new version as well. 

It is also believed SpaceX may begin the stacking of the first Ship version 2 in the coming months but this could slip depending on the lessons learned on upcoming flights and during the commissioning of the new tooling. The company is also planning a larger version, dubbed version 3, that will likely extend up to 150 meters in its full stack configuration although it’s believed this will take a few years to materialize. 

Aerial picture of SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas. The Starfactory is the big white building in the middle of the complex. (Credit: Jack Beyer for NSF)

Along with Starship’s upcoming version, SpaceX is also preparing to start testing an upgraded version of its Raptor engine dubbed Raptor 3. This engine is being designed to have a higher thrust, be more resilient, and have a much more simplified manufacturing which will enable SpaceX to remove from the design the heavy engine shields that are currently present at the base of the rocket, along with removing the existing fire protection system.

This engine is expected to be used on the upgraded versions of Starship which will increase the rocket’s performance and ability to loft heavier payloads into orbit. This past quarter we also got to know through NASA’s Advisory Council that this upgraded version of Starship will enable a ship-to-ship propellant transfer demonstration currently scheduled to take place no earlier than next year.

During the second quarter of 2024 SpaceX also further expanded its Starfactory facility and completely built out a second Mega Bay at Starbase that will be focused on Ship stacking and processing. It also started work on the base of the second launch tower at Starbase and brought to life the new Terex-Demag CC8800-1 crane that will be used for its construction. Based on official documentation, SpaceX is aiming to build up the basic structure of this tower by mid-August.

During this period, the FAA announced its intention to start an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Starship’s launchpad at Launch Complex 39A. While this site already had undergone an Environmental Assessment (EA) back in 2019, SpaceX’s plans for the location have changed with new facilities and a larger and more powerful Starship rocket than originally intended.

This new infrastructure includes, of course, an additional catch tower at the launchpad separate from the existing launch tower and launch mount. It’s very easy to see that the layout of this pad looks a lot more like that of an operational launchpad than the one from 2019. pic.twitter.com/s4512YcLwE

— Alejandro Alcantarilla Romera (Alex) (@Alexphysics13) June 11, 2024

The site is set to feature an air separation unit, a liquefaction plant, and a dedicated Starship catch tower separate from the existing launch tower. The agency is already well into its public scoping process and may release a draft EIS later this year with a final EIS expected no earlier than the summer of next year.

(Lead image: Drone picture of Starship’s liftoff during the rocket’s fourth flight from Starbase, Texas. Credit: SpaceX)

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