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SpaceX's most-flown Falcon 9 rocket is a sooty veteran after 10 launches and landings (photos)

SpaceX's most flown Falcon 9 rocket, the 10-time flier B1051, arrives in Port Canaveral, Florida on May 12, 2021 after launching 60 Starlink satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 9.
SpaceX's most flown Falcon 9 rocket, the 10-time flier B1051, arrives in Port Canaveral, Florida on May 12, 2021 after launching 60 Starlink satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 9. (Image credit: Space.com/Amy Thompson)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — When SpaceX's most-flown rocket, a Falcon 9 booster that has flown a historic 10 times, returned home this month, it definitely looked the part of a veteran space traveler. 

Covered in soot from its many voyagers, the Falcon 9 rocket — designated B1051 — returned to its Port Canaveral home in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 12 after its record-setting launch on May 9, which sent 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit. It appeared on the horizon and slowly sailed into the canal Wednesday afternoon, heading for its dock atop the SpaceX drone ship "Just Read the Instructions." 

Small groups of onlookers were gathered at the port on arrival day, 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

B1051's arrival followed closely on the heels of another returning booster, B1049. Both boosters are SpaceX's fleet leaders and the oldest booster in the rotation. B1049 blasted off on its latest mission just four days before B1051's historic flight, marking its 9th launch and landing

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

The booster's appearance, once stark white, was marred by its multiple trips to space and back; the typically blue SpaceX logo was barely visible amongst the scorch marks.

(Image credit: Space.com/Amy Thompson)

B1051 is the first in Space's fleet to hit 10 flights, a milestone that the company has been working towards since it debuted its upgraded Falcon 9 in 2018. Thanks to a series of enhancements, the vehicle is able to better withstand the stresses of launch and therefore able to fly multiple times. 

Company CEO and founder, Elon Musk, said that the version of Falcon 9 we see today could fly as many as 10 times with little-to-no refurbishments in between. As the company has been working toward this milestone, it's learned a lot about the refurbishment process. 

(Image credit: Space.com/Amy Thompson)

(Image credit: Space.com/Amy Thompson)

(Image credit: Space.com/Amy Thompson)

That magic number of 10 may not be a hard limit but more of a guideline, Musk said following the Crew-2 mission in April. He also said the company plans to push Falcon 9 to its limit and will continue to launch its fleet of flight-proven boosters until they break. 

Now that the B1051 is back in port, it will be off-loaded and then prepped for travel. We could see it flying again soon, becoming the first to make 11 launch and landing attempts. 

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

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