With Sunday’s flight, SpaceX has now launched 835 Starlinks in a rapidly expanding global network that will eventually allow thousands of commercial broadband beacons to deliver high-speed Internet at any point on Earth. To reach that goal, the company plans to launch at least 120 new StarLinks every month.
The latest StarLink mission, SpaceX’s 14th, was underway at 8:26 pm EDT when the Falcon 9’s nine first-stage engines were ignited with a burst of flame, pushing them away from pad 39A away from Kennedy Space Center. The rocket fell to 1.7 million pounds of thrust. .
This is the sixth flight, with the first stage ejecting the rocket from the dense low atmosphere and then heading away to land an offshore droneship. The touchdown marked SpaceX’s 62nd successful booster recovery since December 2015, its 42nd at sea.
Less than a minute after stage separation, two halves of the rocket’s nose cone fairing, both veterans from two old missions, fell to board the waiting recovery ships for parachute descents. Both were successfully recovered, though one appeared to break through their net, possibly hitting the deck of their ship.
The second stage, meanwhile, pressed ahead of the orbit and after two firing of its vacuum rated Merlin engine, all 60 Starlinks were left to fly on their own approximately one hour after liftoff.
Sunday’s launch marked SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 flight since October 2 when a last-second miscarriage blocked the launch of the Space Force Global Positioning System navigation satellite. The company’s engineers have halted the flight, assessing an obvious issue with the engine turbopump machinery.
SpaceX has not provided any details on whether the engine used on Sunday and the GPS used for missions during the Starlink flight on October 18 may be different from the devices used for the mission.
Similarly, there is no word from SpaceX or NASA as to whether the issue of the engine poses any threat to the planned launch of four astronauts into the International Space Station with the Falcon 9 in the next month.
This year was the 18th Falcon 9 flight launched on Sunday, the 95th since the rocket’s launch in 2010, the 98th count of three launches of the triple-core Falcon Heavy. The Falcon 9 has suffered two catastrophic failures, one in flight and one during pre-launch testing.