A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched another 60 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit Sunday from Kennedy Space Center with another set awaiting launch Wednesday from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
With Sunday’s flight, SpaceX has now launched 835 Starlinks into a rapidly expanding global network that will eventually include thousands of commercial broadband beacons that deliver high-speed Internet to any point on Earth. To achieve this, the company plans to launch at least 120 new Starlinks each month.
The last Starlink mission, SpaceX’s 14th, began at 8:26 am EDT when the first nine engines of the Falcon 9 ignited with a burst of flame, pushing the thin rocket away from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A to the top. to 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
Making the sixth flight, the first stage pushed the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere and then crashed and headed for an offshore drone landing. The touchdown marked SpaceX’s 62nd successful recovery since December 2015, the 42nd at sea.
Less than a minute after the separation of the stadium, the two halves of the rocket cone fairing, both veterans of two previous missions, fell for parachute descents to catch nets aboard the waiting recovery ships. Both were successfully recovered, though one appeared to break through the net, possibly hitting the deck of his ship.
The second stage, meanwhile, went into orbit and after two ignitions of its Merlin engine with no load, all 60 Starlinks were released to fly on their own about an hour after take-off.
Sunday’s launch marked SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 flight since October 2, when a last-second abortion blocked the launch of a Space Force Global Positioning System navigation satellite. That flight sits on hold as company engineers assess an apparent problem with the turbopump machinery.
SpaceX did not provide details on how the engines used on Sunday and those used during a Starlink flight on Oct. 18 may differ from those used for the GPS mission.
Likewise, there has been no news from SpaceX or NASA that the engine problem poses a threat to the planned launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station atop a Falcon 9 next month.
Sunday’s launch was the 18th Falcon 9 flight so far this year, the 95th since the rocket’s debut in 2010, the 98th with three launches of the three-core Falcon Heavy. The Falcon 9 suffered two catastrophic failures, one in flight and one during pre-launch testing.