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SpaceX is quickly circling the drone for its sixth launch this month

SpaceX quickly transformed one of its two East Coast “self-contained spaceport drone ships” and returned the vessel to sea to support the sixth and final Falcon 9 launch scheduled for this month.

SpaceX began the month with the successful launch of Transporter-4 — its fourth dedicated small satellite rideshare mission — on April 1. Axiom-1 – the first fully private astronaut launch to the International Space Station – followed on April 8. On the West Coast, another Falcon 9 rocket launched SpaceX’s second National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy satellite mission in two months on April 17. Most recently, Falcon 9 booster B1060 tied SpaceX’s current reuse record of 12 flights with the successful launch of a batch of Starlink satellites at 1:51 p.m. EDT on April 21.

The Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) drone ship was tasked to support Falcon 9 booster recovery for Transporter-4 and Starlink 4-14. Now, less than a day after returning to Port Canaveral with booster B1060, the ship has been towed out to sea to support another Starlink launch and landing.

Due to nearly two weeks of launch delays caused by Dragon’s recovery challenges, the A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG) drone – the second of two East Coast drones – has been stranded at sea waiting to support the NASA and SpaceX’s next astronaut Crew-4 launch. To preserve plans for a Starlink mission in late April, SpaceX’s recovery team had to move as fast as ever to allow JRTI to take ASOG’s place.

After Starlink 4-14 launched and landed on April 21, the JRTI drone cruised to Port Canaveral around 2 a.m. EDT on April 24. Minutes after arriving at its usual berth, a dockside crane turned around and began installing a lifting cap above booster B1060. Less than four hours later, the booster was lifted from JRTI’s deck and moved to dry land, freeing up the space it occupied for any necessary inspection or repairs. The booster’s quick removal also gave SpaceX time to drive the drone’s robotic “Octagrabber” recovery bot into a garage on its deck.

Just after 8 p.m. EDT, less than 16 hours after JRTI reached its berth, support vessel Bob towed the converted barge out to sea. If Starlink 4-16 launches on time on April 29, Just Read The Instructions will narrowly beat a three-year-old drone rotation record (8d 6h) set by Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) in early 2019; recover the Falcon 9 B1062 booster only 8 days, 3 hours and 42 minutes after the Falcon 9 B1060 – and despite a journey of around 1950 km instead of around 1850 km.

Ultimately, this distance is the main reason the current record has survived for so long. Unless a new type of salvage vessel is built or modified with a different type of hull, a flat-bottomed barge – towed or self-propelled – will never be able to travel hundreds of miles of high seas at high speed.

In addition to breaking a potential drone rotation record, next spaceflight reports that Starlink 4-16 will almost certainly break SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 booster rotation record. Falcon 9 booster B1062 last launched Axiom-1 at 11:17 a.m. EDT on April 8. A launch at 5:33 p.m. EDT on April 29 would result in a turnaround time of 21 days and 6 hours, beating the current record of 27 days and 4 hours – set by B1060 in early 2021 – by more than a quarter .

If Crew-4 launches roughly on time, Starlink 4-14 will be SpaceX’s sixth launch in four weeks and the 17th launch of 2022. If the company can maintain that pace for the remaining two-thirds of the year , she could presumably launch more than 51 times in 2022.

SpaceX is quickly circling the drone for its sixth launch this month