A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 60 more Starlink Internet relay satellites into orbit Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center with another set awaiting launch Wednesday from the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
With Sunday’s flight, SpaceX has now launched 835 Starlinks in a fast-growing global network that will eventually include thousands of commercial broadband beacons that provide high-speed Internet to any point on earth. To achieve this goal, the company plans to launch at least 120 new Starlinks each month.
The latest Starlink mission, SpaceX’s 14, started at 8:26 AM EDT as Falcon 9’s nine first-stage engines ignited with a flame burst, pushing the thin rocket away from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on top of the 1.7 million-pound stack.
On the sixth plane, the first phase propelled the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere and then fell away, setting course for the landing of an offshore drone ship. Touchdown marked SpaceX’s 62nd successful booster recovery since December 2015, its 42nd at sea.
Less than a minute after stage separation, the two halves of the rocket’s nose cone, both veterans of two previous missions, fell away from parachute jumps to catch nets aboard waiting recovery ships. Both were successfully restored, though it appeared to be breaking through its net, possibly hitting the ship’s deck.
The second phase, meanwhile, pushed forward to orbit, and after two launches of its vacuum-rated Merlin engine, all 60 Starlinks were released to fly alone about an hour after liftoff.
Sunday’s launch marked SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 flight since October 2, when a last-minute interruption blocked the launch of a Space Force Global Positioning System navigation satellite. This flight remains on hold while the company’s engineers assess an obvious problem with turbopump machines.
SpaceX has not given any details on how the engines used on Sunday and those used during a Starlink flight on October 18 could be different from those used for the GPS mission.
Likewise, there has been no word from SpaceX or NASA as to whether the engine problem poses any threat to the planned launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station on top of a Falcon 9 next month.
Sunday’s launch was the 18th Falcon 9 flight so far this year, the 95th since the rocket’s debut in 2010, the 98th counting three launches of the triple core Falcon Heavy. The Falcon 9 has suffered two catastrophic failures, one in flight and one in pre-launch testing.