SpaceX’s 100-launch goal is more realistic than it seems

SpaceX is lower than a month into 2023, but CEO Elon Musk’s wildly ambitious goal of 100 launches in a single 12 months is already looking doable.

Announced last August, Musk’s 100-launch 2023 goal followed goals of 52after which 60 – Falcon rocket launches in 2022. Each 2022 goals were incredibly ambitious, with 60 requiring SpaceX to almost double its previous annual launch record. But for the primary time in its history, SpaceX not only met – but exceeded – its executives’ forecasts. The corporate launched 61 times in 2022, tying a four-decade-old Soviet record for probably the most launches of a single family of rockets in a single 12 months. Anywhere near 100 Falcon launches in 2023 would crush that record.

Prior to 2022, nevertheless, SpaceX infamously struggled to hit the high bars set by its ever-optimistic executives.

SpaceX’s next launch might be its 14th in two months – a mean of 84 launches per 12 months if the corporate can sustain it. (Richard Angle)

High achievements; higher bars

In September 2017, Musk predicted [PDF] that SpaceX would launch 20 times in 2017 and 30 times in 2018. SpaceX eventually launched 18 times in 2017 and 21 times in 2018. In September 2019, COO Gwynne Shotwell predicted that SpaceX would launch as much as 18 times by the top of the 12 months. The corporate would only launch 13 Falcon rockets in 2019 – the one time within the last 12 years that SpaceX’s launch cadence has dropped year-over-year.

At the identical conference, Shotwell – typically viewed because the adult within the room relative to Musk’s more chaotic management style – also estimated that SpaceX would launch as much as 24 Starlink missions in 2020. SpaceX went on to launch 26 times total in 2020, 15 of which were for Starlink. Finally, in October 2020, CEO Elon Musk revealed a goal of 48 SpaceX launches in 2021. As an alternative, SpaceX launched 31 Falcon rockets – a powerful accomplishment by any measure but still removed from its internal goal.

Only in 2022 did all the puzzle pieces finally click together. Representing the payoff from years of buildup, SpaceX doubled the production of Falcon rocket stages and Starlink satellites, dramatically increased the provision of its drone ships and launch pads, and launched once every six days and not using a single failure.

(6)0 to 100

Ever the glutton for self-punishment, Musk responded to SpaceX’s success by raising 2023’s bar two-thirds higher than 2022’s in August. As an alternative of jinxing the corporate, SpaceX someway sustained its high cadence through the top of the 12 months and barely surpassed Musk’s 60-launch goal.

In truth, the pace of SpaceX launches accelerated throughout 2022. SpaceX launched 13 times in the primary quarter of 2022. Within the fourth quarter of 2022, SpaceX launched 18 times – a rise of just about 40%. The identical trend is visible on a smaller scale. In December 2021, SpaceX launched five times in a single month for the primary time in its history. SpaceX launched seven times (also a primary) in December 2022.

One exceptional month doesn’t necessarily translate into an exceptional 12 months. Nevertheless, SpaceX is on course to launch seven times in January 2023, implying that it could possibly be the corporate’s recent normal. When SpaceX first launched five times in a single month in December 2021, it seemed unlikely that that might develop into its recent normal. But SpaceX ultimately averaged more than five launches monthly throughout 2022.

Time will tell if SpaceX can do the seemingly not possible twice in a row. For now, the corporate is off to an important start.

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