Science

SpaceX launches 53 Starlink Internet satellites and lands a rocket in a misty flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – SpaceX just launched its second rocket this week, this time carrying a stack of Starlink satellites into orbit in a misty flight, before placing a booster landing in the sea.

The Falcon 9 rocket, flown earlier, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:19 am EST (1219 GMT), marking the company’s 25th launch of the year. It also marked the ninth flight of this particular booster.

“Falcon has landed,” SpaceX Dragon propulsion engineer Youmei Zhou said during a live commentary. “This is the 87th overall successful recovery of a Falcon 9 first stage.”

The launch attempt comes just 24 hours after SpaceX was forced to be delayed due to stormy conditions here on the Cape. Saturday morning started with a thick layer of fog hovering over the launch site, slowly dissipating once the sun rose. Sitting on the launch pad, the rocket was barely visible, but once it jumped off the pad and soared into the sky, the rocket was crystal clear against the blue sky.

Related: SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite Mega Constellation Launches In Photos

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A used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 53 Starlink Internet satellites is launched through a layer of fog from a platform at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on November 13, 2021.

(Image credit: SpaceX)

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A used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 53 Starlink Internet satellites is launched through a layer of fog from a platform at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on November 13, 2021.

A used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 53 Starlink Internet satellites is launched through a layer of fog from a platform at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on November 13, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

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A used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 53 Starlink Internet satellites is launched through a layer of fog from a platform at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on November 13, 2021.

A used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 53 Starlink Internet satellites is launched through a layer of fog from a platform at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on November 13, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

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A view from SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket during the launch of a Starlink satellite captures a stunning view of Earth falling down on November 13, 2021.

A view from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket during the launch of a Starlink satellite captures a stunning view of Earth falling down on November 13, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

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This view of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster rocket (left) shows a drone landing.  Read the instructions just before landing in the Atlantic Ocean on November 13, 2021. On the right, a view from the deck of the landing ship.

This view of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster rocket (left) shows a drone landing. Read the instructions just before landing in the Atlantic Ocean on November 13, 2021. On the right, a view from the deck of the landing ship. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The successful liftoff marked SpaceX Starlink’s first launch from Florida on one of its 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rockets in six months. (SpaceX launched a Starlink mission from its California-based launch pad in September.)

The company attributes the brief hiatus in Starlink launches to the deployment of new satellites, which are now equipped with laser-based systems to communicate with each other in orbit and less with the ground.

About nine minutes after liftoff, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth, landing on the SpaceX drone ship, just read the instructions, for a successful landing. The spacecraft, which was previously scheduled to support the launch of SpaceX’s Crew-3 astronaut mission for NASA, which took off on Wednesday (November 10), exchanged roles with its counterpart A Shortfall of Gravitas, which is the longest spacecraft. new from SpaceX.

SpaceX officials said that due to delays with the most recent crew launch, Just Read the Instructions was forced to stay at sea, braving waves ranging from 20 feet to 25 feet in height. Although the drone boats are designed to withstand those wave heights, the teams opted to change the boats (and the crew) so that the teams were fresh for both launches.

A massive constellation in orbit

SpaceX deploys 53 Starlink Internet satellites into orbit after a successful launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on November 13, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s mega-constellation Starlink is designed to provide high-speed Internet coverage to users around the world below, particularly those in remote and rural areas who do not have access to traditional Internet connections.

To date, SpaceX has delivered more than 100,000 Starlink Internet terminals and the service has been approved to operate in at least 14 different countries, with applications pending in several others. In September, the company launched its first full set of satellites in a polar orbit, which will help the company provide access to people at higher latitudes.

With the successful launch on Saturday, SpaceX has put 1,844 Starlink satellites (including initial test versions) into orbit, exceeding the company’s initial quota of 1,440 satellites. However, the company has the official approval of thousands more.

Today’s flight is the second batch of the company’s recently upgraded Starlink Internet satellites, which are now equipped with intra-satellite laser communications.

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A repurposed rocket

The first stage booster for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sits on top of the drone spacecraft.Just read the instructions after making its ninth launch and landing on November 13, 2021. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The Falcon 9 rocket at today’s launch, named B1058 is a flight-tested propellant that has flown eight times before. It debuted in May 2020, taking NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station as part of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission for NASA.

It also launched a communications satellite for the South Korean military, more than 100 small satellites on the Transporter-1 mission, the CRS-21 Dragon cargo spacecraft, and four other Starlink satellite payloads.

Along with the rocket’s first stage, SpaceX also recycled the protective shell-like hardware that encloses the payload. Called the payload fairing (or nose cone), the two pieces account for a tenth of the cost of the rocket, SpaceX officials have said. Each piece is worth $ 3 million, so reusing it helps reduce costs.

Equipped with parachute and navigation software, the fairings will gently drop into the Atlantic Ocean, where they will be retrieved by one of SpaceX’s recovery vessels to be refurbished for a future flight.

This is the 128th flight of a Falcon 9 booster rocket and the 23rd Falcon 9 flight so far this year for SpaceX. It is also the second rocket to launch in an incredibly busy week for SpaceX, which saw the return of one crew of astronauts from the International Space Station, as well as the launch of another.

The success of Saturday’s launch put the cherry on top of a busy week for the private space flight company.

On Monday (November 8), the company recovered the Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a crew: four astronauts. The return marked the end of SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission for NASA, the company’s second long-duration flight. Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur (NASA), as well as Thomas Pesquet (European Space Agency) and Akihiko Hoshide (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) returned to Earth safely after a six-month stay on the space station.

Just two days later, SpaceX launched its next crew of astronauts: Raja Chari from the Crew-3 mission, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron (all from NASA) along with NASA’s European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer. Typically NASA and SpaceX prefer to launch a new crew before bringing the old crew home, but a series of weather delays kept Crew-3 grounded longer than expected. Crew-3’s Dragon, named Endurance, arrived at the space station on Thursday (November 11).

Its launch marked an important milestone for SpaceX: launching 18 people into space in 18 months. Since SpaceX’s first crewed launch for NASA in May 2020, the company has launched three more crews to the space station and a private flight called Inspiration4.

Inspiration4’s four private astronauts launched in September, but they did not go to the space station. Instead, they orbited Earth for three days as part of an effort to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that today’s launch was SpaceX’s 23rd flight of the year according to a spokesperson. It was the 25th launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 of 2021.

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

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