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See SpaceX's most-flown rocket returns to home port after 9th flight (photos)

SpaceX's most-flown Falcon 9 rocket returned to Port Canaveral in Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 16, 2021 after a record 9th launch two days earlier.   (Image credit: Amy Thompson/Space.com)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX's most-flown rocket, a Falcon 9 booster that has flown a historic nine times has returned home to Florida's Port Canaveral after delivering a batch of Starlink satellites into orbit early last week.

The Falcon 9 rocket —   designated B1051 — returned to port on March 16. It appeared on the horizon and slowly sailed into the canal late Tuesday afternoon, heading for its dock atop the SpaceX drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You." The rocket launched 60 SpaceX Starlink satellites into orbit on March 14.

Small groups of onlookers were gathered at the Port Tuesday evening, hoping to catch a glimpse of the booster's return. The spot is not only a popular launch viewing location, but also a prime locale to view returning boats and first stage boosters. 

Related: See the evolution of SpaceX's rockets in pictures

A returning booster always draws a crowd, and today was no different. That’s because B1051’s arrival marked a special treat: the first time there was not one, but two boosters in the Port. 

The other rocket was B1058, a six-time flier, which blasted off on its own Starlink mission just days before B1051;s historic flight. Perched atop SpaceX's other drone ship "Just Read the Instructions," B1058 sailed into Port on March 13. 

At a grassy spot, near the SpaceX docks, a small audience was waiting to capture B1051's triumphant arrival. As the drone ship parked in its slip, cameras clicked and excited onlookers chattered about the booster's sooty exterior. 

The booster's appearance, once stark white, was marred — scorched and sooty from its multiple trips to space and back— especially when compared to B1058. 

SpaceX's most-flown Falcon 9 rocket (left) returned to Port Canaveral in Cape Canaveral, Florida on March 16, 2021 after a record 9th launch two days earlier.  Another Falcon 9 rocket is visible on the right as a crane prepares to lower it to the ground after that booster's 6th flight on March 11. (Image credit: Amy Thompson/Space.com)

After six flights, B1058's NASA worm logo, once bright red, now appeared black, while the typically blue SpaceX logo on B1051 was barely visible amongst the scorch marks. 

As SpaceX's most-flown booster, B1051, could make its 10th flight in the near future — a milestone SpaceX has been working toward. 

When SpaceX debuted its upgraded Falcon 9, company founder and CEO Elon Musk said that each booster could fly as many as 10 times with little-to-no refurbishments in between. That's due to a series of upgrades added to the vehicle in 2018, which includes improved engines, a more durable interstage (a connector between the first and second stages), titanium grid fins and a more robust thermal protection system.

A SpaceX Falcon 9  rocket lies on its side on the drone ship Just Follow The Instructions after returning to Port Canaveral in Cape Canaveral, Florida following a March 11, 2021. (Image credit: Amy Thompson/Space.com)

 This combination allows Falcon 9 to hold up better against the stresses of launch. With each recovery, SpaceX has learned more and more about launch wear and tear. 

Now that the Falcon 9 booster is back in port, it will be off-loaded and then prepped for travel. That is as soon as B1058 is moved. That booster went horizontal on Wednesday so that crews could transport it and move on to B1051.

Another view of SpaceX's 9-time flier Falcon 9 rocket (left) and a 6-time flying Falcon 9 at lying horizontal at right. (Image credit: Amy Thompson/Space.com)

SpaceX's twin fairing catchers — GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief — are still in Port, armless, as they undergo some sort of maintenance. Right now SpaceX is relying on two of its Dragon recovery boats (GO Searcher and GO Navigator) to scoop fairings out of the ocean. 

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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