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SpaceX launches powerful Indonesian communications satellite in 16th flight this year

SpaceX launched its 16th Falcon 9 rocket so far this year Tuesday, putting a powerful Indonesian communications satellite into orbit.

Using a first stage making its 17th flight, the Falcon 9 blasted off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 3:11 p.m. EST.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roars away from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Tuesday afternoon carrying Indonesia's Merah Putih 2 communications satellite. It was SpaceX's 16th launch so far this year. William Harwood/CBS News

The first stage boosted the rocket out of the thick lower atmosphere and fell away, flying itself to a successful touchdown on an off-shore landing barge eight-and-a-half minutes after launch. The second stage continued the climb to space, releasing the Merah Putih 2 satellite to fly on its own 25 minutes later.

Operated by the state-owned Telkomsat, the $240 million Merah Putih satellite — the name means "red and white" in reference to Indonesia's flag — was built by Thales Alenia Space. It is designed to provide data rates of up to 32 gigabytes per second using C-band and Ku-band transponders covering all of Indonesia.

The satellite, with a design life of 15 years, is the second Telkomsat data relay station launched by SpaceX.

Tuesday's flight marked the 16th Falcon 9 launch so far this year for SpaceX and the 301st since the rocket's debut in 2010. The company has now carried out 275 successful first stage recoveries, the last 201 in a row. SpaceX expects to launch more than 140 rockets this year if the hardware and weather cooperate.

An artist's impression of Telkomsat's Merah Putih 2 communications satellite on station 22,300 miles above Indonesia. Thales Alenia Space

In the near term, the company is expected to launch two more Starlink flights between now and the end of the month, boosting the total number of broadband data relay stations launched to date to nearly 5,900.

That will set the stage for launch of three NASA astronauts and a Russian — Crew-8 — to the International Space Station on March 1. The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule "Endeavour" will be making its fifth flight, a new record for SpaceX's fleet of ferry ships.

Crew-8 commander Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt, Jeanette Epps and cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin will replace Crew-7 commander Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov. They were launched to the outpost last August.

Moghbeli and her crewmates plan to return to Earth around March 8, clearing the way for launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying veteran cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarus guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA veteran Tracy Dyson.

Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya will return to Earth April 2, along with NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara. They'll use the Soyuz MS-24/70S spacecraft that carried O'Hara, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub to the station last September.

Kononenko and Chub are spending a full year in space and will return to Earth with Dyson in September aboard the Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft delivered by Novitskiy.

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