Elon Musk's SpaceX smashes annual orbital rocket launches record with 96 missions in 2023

The company also set a record for the shortest time between launches

The US military's X-37B robot spaceplane lifts off atop SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX has set a record for orbital rocket launches in 2023. Reuters
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Elon Musk's SpaceX has set a record for orbital rocket launches in 2023, carrying out 96 successful missions this year as it continues to dominate the US satellite market.

The California-based company carried out 91 launches with its heavy-duty Falcon 9 rocket and an additional five with the Falcon Heavy, enabling it to easily smash its previous record of 61 launches in 2022.

SpaceX began to top off the record on Thursday night by launching the Falcon Heavy, carrying the US military's X-37B spaceplane from Nasa's Kennedy Space Center at 1.07am GMT. Just under three hours later, the Falcon 9 was launched, carrying 23 Starlink internet satellites.

That also set a new SpaceX record for the shortest time between orbital launches, which is also the lowest time between launches in Florida since the Nasa Gemini 11 mission back in 1966.

The 96 launches are just under Mr Musk's goal of 100, which he first pitched as a “thought experiment”, said Jon Edwards, vice president of Falcon launch vehicles at SpaceX.

Mr Musk “intended to unlock our thinking as to how we might accelerate Falcon across all levels of production and launch”, he wrote on X.

“Only a few years later and here we are. I’m so incredibly proud to work with the best team on earth, and so excited to see what we achieve next year.”

Mr Musk has yet to publicly comment on SpaceX's achievement.

SpaceX's Starlink is a low-Earth orbit satellite constellation service that provides internet access using satellites that orbit the planet at between heights of 200km and 2,000km.

For perspective, the International Space Station is at 408km, while Hubble Space Telescope is at 547km.

The service provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet. Within each coverage area, orders are fulfilled on a first-come first-served basis.

Satellite internet is a viable option compared to regular internet services. For instance, to have access to the internet using a 5G or any broadband connection, a device must be within range of a cell tower.

The closer a user is to the cell tower, the better and faster the connection should be. With a satellite, a user can gain access to the internet even in the remotest of places.

The Starlink mega constellation is currently comprised of more than 5,200 operational satellites. The company plans to deploy as many as 12,000 satellites, with hopes of ramping this up to as many as 42,000.

The global low-Earth orbit satellite market is projected to surpass $34 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual rate of nearly 17 per cent, latest data from Verified Market Research shows.

SpaceX is also Mr Musk's vehicle for space exploration. One of the company's ultimate goals is to colonise Mars. The company is going head-to-head with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin.

Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce company founded by Mr Bezos, has also already started challenging SpaceX by launching its first satellites in October.

SpaceX is also one of three companies that are hectocorns, or start-ups with a valuation of $100 billion or more. The other two are China-based online fashion retailer Shein and ByteDance, the parent of popular social media platform TikTok.

The valuation of SpaceX hit around $180 billion in early December, CNBC had reported.

Updated: January 01, 2024, 4:36 AM