The Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX. The first stage (also known as the core stage) can return to Earth and land propulsively, to be reused on a later mission. In the last several years, SpaceX has incrementally developed its reusability capabilities. On December 22nd, 2015, a Falcon 9 core stage successfully returned to Earth for the first time. On March 30th, 2017, a Falcon 9 core was reused for the first time.
Since that time, SpaceX has continued to make improvements and test the limits of reusability. The most "veteran" core at the moment is core B1049, which successfully launched and returned for the fifth time in June 2020. However, SpaceX's stated goal is to push this even further, using each core at least 10 times with minimal refurbishment. In recent months, SpaceX has apparently adopted a strategy of using its internal Starlink satellite launches to push reusability boundaries without risking expensive customer satellites.
When will an individual SpaceX Falcon 9 core stage launch and return to Earth for the tenth time?
- This question is asking about some specific core which has launched and returned ten times, not about the total number of reuses across the Falcon 9 fleet.
- The core may be refurbished between uses. We will consider a core to be the same if it has the same "B10XX" serial number as listed on the unofficial SpaceX subreddit wiki. If this number becomes unavailable, or admins determine that the wiki has been substantially compromised, this question may instead resolve based on SpaceX's public statements. Typically during a webcast, a SpaceX host will state that "this stage previously flew the ABC mission", which also permits tracking of cores. Alternatively, if it appears that reliable information will not be available (e.g. if SpaceX no longer makes statements regarding the previous history of cores), the admins may choose to resolve ambiguous, at their discretion.
- For resolution, the core must launch, reach an altitude above 1 km, and land (e.g. at a landing pad or a droneship, not in the ocean) relatively intact, ten times. There is no requirement that the core actually delivers ten payloads to orbit, or that it returns safely to port or SpaceX control.