SpaceX launches another 56 Starlink satellites – how big is the mega-constellation now?

The private space firm has already launched Falcon 9 to orbit 29 times this year.
Chris Young
The launch of SpaceX's latest Starship mission.
The launch of SpaceX's latest Starship mission.


SpaceX launched its latest batch of Starlink broadband satellites into orbit early in the morning of Sunday, May 14.

One of the company's workhorse Falcon 9 rockets launched 56 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 1:03 am EDT (0503 GMT).

Shortly after launch, the Falcon 9's first stage came down to Earth for one of the company's iconic landings.

SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 flies again

Roughly 8.5 minutes after launch, SpaceX's Falcon 9 touched down on the drone ship 'Just Read the Instructions', stationed on the Atlantic Ocean, to mark another successful mission. On its website, SpaceX explained that this was the 11th launch and landing for that particular booster.

The Falcon 9's upper stage continued to low Earth orbit, deploying the 56 Starlink satellites.

The latest Starlink launch was also the 29th Falcon 9 launch of the year so far and the 31st orbital mission for SpaceX in 2023. 16 of those missions were Starlink launches. The two orbital missions that didn't fly aboard Falcon 9 were SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, essentially made up of three Falcon 9 boosters strapped together and an upper stage.

SpaceX also tried to fly its next-generation Starship rocket to orbit last month. Though Starship didn't reach orbit and was purposefully destroyed for safety reasons shortly after launch, SpaceX still deems the first test flight for the massive Mars rocket a success.

SpaceX has now launched almost 4,400 Starlink satellites. According to Harvard astronomer and astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell's website, SpaceX currently has more than 4,000 Starlink satellites active in orbit.

Starlink: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The company's massive broadband satellite mega-constellation has been both widely praised and criticized. In May last year, we reported that Starlink was helping to keep roughly 150,000 Ukrainians connected daily amid Russia's ongoing invasion. It has also helped countless people live idealistic off-grid lifestyles and even potentially helped to save lives by live-streaming hurricanes.

However, numerous scientists have also flagged the satellite constellation as a concern. In an interview with IE last year, University of Regina astronomer Dr. Samantha Lawler said Starlink would contribute to the growing problem of space debris, which already has us on the brink of experiencing Kessler Syndrome.

We are "right on the edge" of Kessler Syndrome, Lawler explained. If it does happen, it would feel like we were "inside a snow globe within a couple of hours of sunrise or sunset," and any efforts to fix the problem would be akin to "collecting bullets."

Even SpaceX's greatest partner, NASA, has warned that the satellites could impede its ability to detect potentially hazardous asteroids headed toward Earth.

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