SpaceX whizzes past annual launch record with Starlink mission

FILE PHOTO: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a payload of 53 Starlink satellites lifts off from Launch Complex 39A

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Elon Musk's SpaceX on Friday broke its record for the number of rockets launched in a calendar year, topping last year's slate of 31 missions amid a whirlwind campaign to launch its own internet satellites into orbit.

SpaceX's 32nd launch of 2022 using its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket comes as the company races to build a constellation of broadband satellites called Starlink, a largely consumer-based service with hundreds of thousands of internet users.

"Congrats to SpaceX team on record number of launches!" Musk, SpaceX's chief executive, tweeted after the mission, which deployed 46 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit.

The mission took off from the company's California launchsite at the Vandenberg Space Force Base. SpaceX so far has launched nearly 3,000 Starlink satellites to space.

Friday's mission keeps SpaceX on pace to reach its goal of 52 orbital missions by year's end, nearly doubling its annual launch cadence with the reusable Falcon 9 that SpaceX says can be reflown up to 15 times.

A majority of those missions have been, and are scheduled to be in-house Starlink missions.

The company, founded by Musk in 2002 to normalize interplanetary travel, has in recent months shifted its focus from manufacturing Falcon 9 rockets to managing a fleet of those already built, investing heavily in infrastructure for refurbishing boosters under speedy timelines.

The company has applied the same strategy to its fleet of reusable Crew Dragons - gumdrop-shaped spacecraft that launch atop the Falcon 9 and ferry humans to orbit and the International Space Station.

SpaceX has launched Starlink satellites to space quicker than its rivals in the satellite internet race, such as satellite operator OneWeb, due in part to Falcon 9's rapid reusability and the edge associated with using in-house rockets.

OneWeb, which is nearing completion of an internet constellation with fewer satellites, has launched its satellites on Russia's Soyuz rocket. The company this year plans to use the Falcon 9 after canceling its Soyuz contract over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)