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SpaceX launches third rocket in four days, putting up another 49 Starlink satellites

Following successful launches Monday and Wednesday, SpaceX fired off another Falcon 9 rocket Thursday, boosting 49 more Starlink internet relay satellites into orbit. It was the California rocket builder's sixth launch in just 28 days.

The rocket blasted off from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 1:13 p.m. EST, arcing away on a southeasterly trajectory just off the Florida coast toward an orbit tilted 53.2 degrees to the equator.

Close encounters of the bird kind: A Falcon 9 rocket climbs away from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, photobombed by a passing bird. The rocket successfully deployed another 49 Starlink internet satellites in SpaceX's sixth launch so far this year. William Harwood/CBS News

About two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the first stage, making its sixth flight, fell away, flipped around and headed for landing on a SpaceX droneship while the rocket's second stage pressed ahead toward orbit.

The first stage touched down on the droneship "A Shortfall of Gravitas" a little more than eight-and-a-half minutes after launch. A moment later, the second stage engine shut down after reaching an initial elliptical orbit.

All 49 Starlinks were released in a single batch about six minutes later. They eventually will make their way to a circular 335-mile-high orbit.

A dramatic "rocketcam" view showing launch pads 39A (right), 39B and the Florida coastline 2.8 miles below as the Falcon 9 accelerated out of the lower atmosphere. SpaceX webcast

It was the third Starlink launch so far this year and the program's 36th dedicated flight, pushing the total number of SpaceX broadband satellites orbited to date to 2,091 as the company builds out a globe-spanning network of commercial internet satellites.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who tracks space-related statistics, estimates 1,846 Starlinks were operational going into Thursday's launch.

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