SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink internet satellites early Thursday in the first of two back-to-back Falcon 9 flights to put 120 broadband relay stations into orbit in less than three days.
The company’s 18th dedicated Starlink mission shot away from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:19 a.m. EST, shattering the deep overnight calm with a thundering roar and a burst of sky-lighting flame from the booster’s nine first stage engines.
Making its fifth flight, the first stage boosted the craft out of the dense lower atmosphere before falling away and successfully landing on an off-shore drone ship to chalk up SpaceX’s 74th booster recovery. The stage flew on its previous mission just 27 days ago, the fastest turnaround yet for a refurbished Falcon 9 booster.
The rocket’s second stage engine, meanwhile, fired twice to put the payload in the desired orbit. About an hour after launch, all 60 Starlink satellites were released in a single batch, slowly spreading apart as they drifted away. On-board thrusters will be used to nudge the spacecraft into their operational orbits.
The launch, SpaceX’s fourth flight so far this year, boosted the total number of Starlinks put into orbit to date to 1,085, with another 60 set for launch from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday morning at 4:31 a.m. pending final clearance.
SpaceX has regulatory approval to launch thousands of Starlinks in multiple orbital planes to provide continuous space-based internet connectivity to commercial users anywhere in the world. The company currently is testing the service across the northern United States and Canada.