SpaceX kicked off the new year Thursday by launching 49 more Starlink internet relay satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket using a booster making its fourth flight. The mission pushed the total number of Starlinks launched to date to nearly 2,000.
The Falcon 9's nine first stage engines ignited at 4:49 p.m. EST and smoothly propelled the 229-foot-tall rocket away from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on a southerly trajectory tilted 53 degrees to the equator.
Skirting the Bahamas and the Florida peninsula as it climbed out of the lower atmosphere, the two-stage rocket appeared to perform flawlessly, releasing the 49 Starlinks to fly on their own about 15-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.
At almost the same instant the satellites were released, the Falcon 9's first stage successfully landed on a SpaceX droneship to chalk up the company's 101st successful recovery and its 78th at sea.
The launching was the latest step in SpaceX's drive to build out a globe-spanning constellation of laser-connected internet relay stations designed to supply relatively high-speed broadband service to customers anywhere on the planet. The company has regulatory approval to launch thousands more.
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