SpaceX launched its third Falcon 9 rocket in less than two days on Saturday, sending 54 Starlink internet satellites into orbit using a revamped first-stage booster that was making its record 15th flight. It was also California’s 59th rocket launch so far this year, nearly doubling its 2021 record.
Covered in soot from 14 previous re-enters, Merlin’s nine first-stage engines fired up with a roar at 4:32 pm EST, propelling the 229-foot-tall rocket smoothly from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The presentation followed aFriday that put a $1.2 billion ocean monitoring satellite into orbit, and a Falcon 9 flight from Florida on Friday afternoon that sent two SES medium-altitude broadband satellites into space.
The Starlink launch was scheduled for Friday as well, but SpaceX pushed it back to Saturday to “prioritize” the SES launch.
In any case, the first phase of the B1058, which began flying in May 2020 – which helps to increasein space – created another problem – climb out of the dense space below on Saturday.
Two and a half minutes after launch, the stage fell and flew to the bottom of the landing craft on the beach. It was SpaceX’s 124th droneship landing, and its 158th successful recovery overall.
The Falcon 9’s second stage, on the other hand, completed its ascent into space within seconds of the booster landing. 54 Starlink satellites have been launched in the batch, pushing the total number of Starlink satellites launched so far by SpaceX to 3,612, as SpaceX continues to fill the space station’s global expansion of laser-linked radio stations.
Not all of the satellites are still operational or in orbit, but astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell estimated that 3,230 were active on Saturday’s flight.
SpaceX is launching 31 Falcon 9s in 2021. Two additional 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 by 2022.
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