CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a new batch of 60 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit on Wednesday afternoon (April 7) and landed at sea to complete a successful mission.
The veteran Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 12:34 a.m. EDT (1634 GMT), marking the company’s 10th launch of the year.
“Falcon 9 has successfully taken off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with our stack of Starlink satellites in orbit,” said Jessie Anderson, a SpaceX production engineer, during a live webcast of the launch.
About nine minutes later, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth and landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” for its seventh successful landing.
Related: SpaceX’s Starlink satellite megaconstellation is launched in photos
SpaceX continues last year’s rapid launch pace as the Hawthorne, California-based rocket builder celebrated its 10th launch so far in 2021. internet constellation of 1,440 broadband satellites.
While that constellation could eventually be tens of thousands of satellites strong, SpaceX is allowed to launch as many as 30,000, with an option for even more.
Forecasters from the 45th Space Wing weather squadron predicted favorable conditions at launch, and the weather did not disappoint. It was nothing but a blue sky over the space coast today as the Falcon 9 rocket climbed to orbit.
Related: What’s that in the sky? It’s a SpaceX rocket, but it certainly doesn’t look like one
Today’s launch booster, dubbed B1058, is one of SpaceX’s fleet of flight-proven boosters. The veteran aviator now has seven launches and landings under his belt and is quickly emerging as one of the fleet leaders.
B1058 debuted almost a year ago, when it became the first to feature NASA’s iconic worm logo. “The worm is back,” said former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted at that moment.
The iconic red worm logo was created in the 1970s and was used for a time before the space agency relied solely on its other iconic symbol: the NASA meatball.
While the meatball is still the main logo, NASA has opted to display the worm on its manned missions. The once bright red writing is now dark and sooty, a result of the many journeys to space and back.
The B1058 was the first commercial rocket to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s commercial crewing program. It’s a historic maiden flight, the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission, launched May 30, 2020 from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center here in Florida. 2011.
The booster then flew for the second time in July 2020, delivering a communications satellite into space for South Korea’s military.
The booster also delivered the first upgraded Dragon cargo capsule to the space station in December 2020 and made history again in January as the booster to orbit the most satellites in a single charge. That rhythm mission, called Transporter-1, put a record number of 143 small satellites in space. (The previous record was held by the Indian Space Agency for the launch of 104 small satellites in 2017.)
This is the 113th overall flight for Falcon 9 and the 59th flight of a used refurbished booster. In fact, every SpaceX launch so far in 2021 was on a flight-proven rocket.
The mission also marks the fifth consecutive successful landing for SpaceX, after the company lost one of its six-fold kites on February 15 when the rocket lost an engine in flight and then failed to land on the drone ship, causing more than two dozen catch streak.
SpaceX attributed the anomaly to the shutdown of one of the onboard engines. The rocket’s first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1D engines and is designed to complete its mission even if one of the engines shuts down prematurely.
Unfortunately, the missile was unable to slow itself enough to land on the drone ship as expected. Company officials have stressed that losing a booster is a shame, but the main goal of any mission is always to get the payload safely into the intended orbit. Everything beyond that is a bonus.
With a fleet of proven rockets, SpaceX can keep up with its fast launch cadence.
With today’s launch success, SpaceX has launched a total of more than 1,400 Starlink satellites into orbit, including some that are no longer operational. This almost fills the company’s original quota, as some have debated. And there are many more launches to come, as the company has sought approval for tens of thousands more.
SpaceX launched its massive Internet constellation, with one major goal: to connect the world. To that end, the company’s engineers designed a fleet of flat-panel broadband satellites to fly across the Earth and radiate Internet coverage to users around the world – especially those in rural and remote areas who would otherwise have no connectivity.
Starlink review (hands on): How Good Is Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Service?
Currently, Starlink is still in beta testing and users in the US, Canada, UK, Germany and New Zealand can access the service. SpaceX is taking preorders in preparation for the launch of its full commercial services sometime later this year. Potential users can now start reserving the service with a $ 99 deposit by signing up on the company’s website.
SpaceX isn’t the only company with the ambition to connect the world. OneWeb, Amazon and Telstar all have their own constellations planned. However, OneWeb is currently the only other service with real satellites in space.
The London-based company launched 36 of its satellites on a Russian Soyuz last month as it completes its planned constellation of 650 satellites. (To date, OneWeb has launched five of its 19 planned missions.)
Both fairing halves featured in today’s mission have been flown before and with luck they will be flying again soon.
That is, if they land intact. Using parachutes on board, the clamshell-like hardware will gently splash down into the Atlantic Ocean and be pulled out of the water by SpaceX’s newest boat, a bright pink and blue ship called Shelia Bordelon.
Shelia Bordelon is taking part in his second mission and will use an onboard crane to retrieve the fairings. It is unclear whether this boat will be a permanent member of the fleet or if she is only helping in the short term.
SpaceX officially discontinues its dual fairings – GO Ms. Chief and GO Ms. Tree – and will rely on other salvage vessels in the future to retrieve the falling fairings.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.