A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched another 60 Starlink Internet relay satellites into orbit on Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center with another kit expected to be launched Wednesday from a nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force station.
With Sunday’s flight, SpaceX has already launched 835 Starlinks in a fast-growing global network that will eventually include thousands of commercial broadband beacons delivering high-speed Internet to anywhere on Earth. To achieve this goal, the company plans to release at least 120 new Starlinks each month.
Starlink’s latest mission, SpaceX’s 14th, began at 8:26 a.m. EDT when the Falcon 9’s nine primary engines ignited with a burst of flame, repelling a thin rocket from Site 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on top of 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
In its sixth flight, the first stage pushes the missile out of the dense lower atmosphere, then drops off and heads for an offshore drone landing. Touchdown marked the 62nd successful recovery of SpaceX since December 2015, the 42nd at sea.
Less than a minute after the scene split, the two halves of the rocket cone fairing, and the two veterans of two earlier missions, dropped out to parachute to catch the net aboard waiting ships for recovery. Both were successfully recovered, although one seemed to break through his net, probably hitting the deck of his ship.
Meanwhile, the second stage moved forward into orbit, and after two launches of its Merlin vacuum engine, all 60 Starlinks were released to fly alone about an hour after takeoff.
Sunday’s launch marks SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 flight on October 2, when a last-second interruption blocked the launch of Space Force’s Global Force Positioning System navigation satellite. This flight was delayed while the company’s engineers assessed an obvious problem with the turbopump machines.
SpaceX did not provide any details on how the engines used on Sunday and those used during the Starlink flight on October 18 may differ from those used for the GPS mission.
Similarly, there are no reports from SpaceX or NASA as to whether the engine problem poses a threat to the planned launch of four astronauts at the International Space Station on top of Falcon 9 next month.
Sunday’s launch was the 18th flight of the Falcon 9 so far this year, the 95th since the rocket’s debut in 2010, the 98th, counting three launches of the tri-core Falcon Heavy. The Falcon 9 suffered two catastrophic failures, one during the flight and one during the pre-launch test.