SpaceX launches 54 more Starlinks with a booster making its record-setting 15th flight
SpaceX launched its third Falcon 9 rocket in less than two days Saturday, sending 54 Starlink internet satellites into orbit using a recycled first-stage booster which was making its record 15th flight. It was also the California rocket builder's 59th launch so far this year, nearly doubling its 2021 record.
Coated with soot from 14 previous re-entries, the veteran first stage's nine Merlin engines ignited with a roar at 4:32 p.m. EST, smoothly pushing the 229-foot-tall rocket away from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The launch followed a California flight Friday that put a $1.2 billion ocean-monitoring satellite into orbit, and a Falcon 9 flight from Florida Friday afternoon that sent two SES medium-altitude broadband satellites into space.
The Starlink launch had been planned for Friday as well, but SpaceX delayed it to Saturday to "prioritize" the SES launch.
In any case, first stage B1058, which first flew in May 2020 — helping boost the first piloted Crew Dragon ferry ship into space — chalked up another problem free-climb out of the dense lower atmosphere Saturday.
Two-and-a-half minutes after launch, the stage fell away and flew itself to touchdown on an off-shore landing barge. It was SpaceX's 124th droneship landing, and its 158th successful recovery overall.
The Falcon 9 second stage, meanwhile, completed its climb to space within seconds of the booster landing. The 54 Starlink satellites were released in a batch, pushing the total number of Starlink satellites launched to date by SpaceX to 3,612, as SpaceX continues to populate its globe-spanning constellation of laser-linked broadband relay stations.
Not all of the satellites are still operational or in orbit, but space statistician Jonathan McDowell estimates 3,230 were operational going into Saturday's flight.
SpaceX launched 31 Falcon 9s in 2021. Two more launches are expected this year: another Starlink flight from Cape Canaveral, and the launch of an Israeli Earth-observation satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Southern California. Those will push SpaceX's total to 61 launches in 2022.
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