Stephen Clark reports via Ars Technica: Earlier this week, SpaceX launched for the 75th time this year, continuing a flight cadence that should see the company come close to 100 missions by the end of December. SpaceX plans to kick its launch rate into a higher gear in 2024. This will be largely driven by launches of upgraded Starlink satellites with the ability to connect directly with consumer cell phones, a service SpaceX calls “Starlink Direct to Cell,” a company official told Ars this week. The goal next year is 12 launches per month, for a total of 144 Falcon rocket flights. Like this year, most of those missions will be primarily devoted to launching Starlink broadband satellites. So far in 2023, more than 60 percent of SpaceX’s launches have delivered the company’s own Starlink satellites into orbit.
Here are some numbers. Last year, SpaceX launched 61 missions. In 2021, the number was 31. In the last 12 months, SpaceX has launched 88 Falcon rockets, plus one test flight of the company’s much larger Starship rocket. SpaceX’s success in recovering and reusing Falcon 9 boosters and payload fairings has been vital to making this possible. SpaceX has gone past the original goal of launching each Falcon 9 booster 10 times before a major overhaul, first to 15 flights, and then recently certifying boosters for up to 20 missions. Technicians can swap out parts like engines, fins, landing legs, and valves that malfunction in flight or show signs of wear. With so many launches planned next year, 20 flights is probably not a stopping point. “We might go a little higher,” the SpaceX official said. SpaceX may also see an uptick in missions for external customers, like NASA, the U.S. Space Force, and commercial companies. “External demand for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches is ‘steady,’ the official said, but some customers that had launches scheduled for this year encountered delays with their satellites, moving them into 2024.”