Three days after, SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 rocket Saturday, this one carrying 53 more Starlink satellites for the company's growing constellation of space-based internet relay stations.
Running one day late because of stormy weather, the rocket's first stage engines ignited at 7:19 a.m. ET, throttled up to full power and smoothly pushed the booster away from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station with 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
Climbing out of low fog in spectacular fashion, the 229-foot-tall rocket arced away to the northeast and quickly faded from view. Two-and-a-half minutes later, the first stage, making its ninth flight, fell away and flew itself to a landing on an offshore droneship while the second stage continued on to orbit.
The Starlinks were released in a single batch about 15 minutes after launch, slowly spreading apart as they drifted away from the Falcon 9's second stage. SpaceX has now launched 1,844 Starlinks since the first two prototypes were sent up in 2018.
The California rocket builder plans to launch thousands more in multiple orbital planes to ensure uninterrupted space-based broadband connectivity with customers anywhere in the world, using laser cross links to pass user data from satellite to satellite as they fly into and out of range.
London-based OneWeb has launched 358 internet satellites so far in a planned fleet of 648 while multiple other companies, including Amazon, are planning networks of many thousands more.
Critics fear the potentially vast number of satellites in low-Earth orbit will increase the odds of catastrophic collisions and compromise ground-based optical and radio astronomy.
But proponents say providing broadband services to users anywhere in the world will be a boon to commerce and education, adding that safety protocols will minimize the threat of collisions.
Saturday's flight capped an especially busy week for SpaceX. The company brought four astronauts home from the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon capsule Monday, launched four replacement astronauts Wednesday and helped guide them to a smooth docking at the lab complex Thursday.
The launch Saturday marked SpaceX's 31st dedicated Starlink flight, the 25th Falcon 9 launch so far this year and the 131st overall, including three triple-core Falcon Heavy boosters. The successful landing of the Falcon 9's first stage marked the company's 71st recovery at sea and its 94th overall.
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