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SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites, lands rocket at sea

SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites, lands rocket at sea.

SpaceX launched 54 more Starlink broadband satellites to orbit and landed a rocket on a ship at sea on Saturday night (Aug. 27).

A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket carrying 54 Starlink spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida Saturday at 11:41 p.m. EDT (0341 GMT on Aug. 28). 

That was about 80 minutes later than initially planned, as SpaceX waited for some bad weather to clear.

A little less than nine minutes after launch, the Falcon 9’s first stage came down to Earth for a landing on the SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. 

It was the second launch and landing for this Falcon 9 first stage. According to a SpaceX mission description, the booster also helped send a robotic Dragon cargo capsule toward the International Space Station last December.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s upper stage continued hauling the Starlink satellites skyward, eventually deploying all 54 into low Earth orbit about 15 minutes after liftoff as planned, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter.

Saturday night’s launch was the 38th of 2022 for SpaceX, extending the company’s record for most orbital missions in a calendar year. 

The 24th mission of the year was devoted to Starlink, SpaceX’s internet mega constellation.

SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites
SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites

SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites

SpaceX has big plans for Starlink, as that aggressive launch cadence shows. 

On Thursday (Aug. 25), Elon Musk announced a deal with T-Mobile to use Starlink to beam connectivity directly to smartphones.

That direct-to-handset service is expected to debut next year. 

It will employ Starlink Version 2 satellites, which will be much bigger and more capable than the Starlink satellites SpaceX has launched.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:10 a.m. EDT on Aug. 28 with news of the successful launch, landing and satellite deployment.

SpaceX hauled another 54 Starlink internet satellites into orbit Saturday night from Cape Canaveral, setting a record for the heaviest payload launched by a Falcon 9 rocket. 

The launch occurred days after SpaceX and T-Mobile unveiled plans to use a new generation of Starlink spacecraft to provide ubiquitous connectivity to existing cell phones.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Space Force Station, occurred at 11:41 p.m. EDT Saturday (0341 GMT Sunday) to kick off SpaceX’s 38th launch of the year.

SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites
SpaceX launches 54 Starlink satellites

Fifteen minutes later, the Falcon 9’s upper stage released a stack of Starlink internet satellites into an orbit targeted between 144 and 208 miles (232-by-336 kilometres). 

The launcher aimed for an orbital inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator.

Weather conditions were iffy Saturday night, with thunderstorms and lightning in the area around the launch site. 

SpaceX skipped a launch opportunity at 10:22 p.m. EDT (0222 GMT) due to the storms, but the weather improved for the second of two launch times available Saturday at 11:41 p.m.

The launch Saturday night, known as Starlink 4-23, carried 54 Starlink payloads, one more than SpaceX’s recent missions to the same orbit. 

SpaceX has experimented with engine throttle settings and another minor upgrade to stretch the Falcon 9’s lift capability.

The 53 satellites on recent Starlink flights maximized the rocket’s payload performance, representing the heaviest payloads launched on a Falcon 9.

Adding one more satellite — each Starlink craft weighs more than a quarter-ton — may suggest SpaceX has slightly improved the Falcon 9’s payload envelope capacity. 

According to Jessie Anderson, a SpaceX engineer and commentator on the company’s launch webcast, the satellites on Saturday night’s flight added up to the heaviest cargo ever lofted on a SpaceX mission.

Anderson said that the total payload mass with 54 Starlink satellites added up to more than 36,800 pounds or 16.7 metric tons.

The Starlink 4-23 mission launch came about 33 hours before NASA was scheduled to launch the giant Artemis 1 moon rocket from nearby Kennedy Space Center. 

The Space Launch System rocket is standing on pad 39B at Kennedy, about 5 miles (8 kilometres) north of the Falcon 9’s launch site at pad 40.

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