SpaceX Successfully Lifted 60 More Starlink Satellites, First 2021 Launch
SpaceX's first mission of 2021 successfully blasted off — lifting the company's 17th batch of Starlink satellites into lower-Earth orbit via Flacon 9 rocket, which made a record-breaking landing — according to a live stream of the event on the company's YouTube channel.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Florida at 8:02 AM EST, and delivered its satellites without issue roughly one hour after blast-off.
SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites
This latest launch expands the size of SpaceX's Starlink constellation to nearly 1,000 satellites — as the company expanded its beta access program to offer additional service in Canada and the U.K.
After the successful launch and Starlink satellite deployment, SpaceX's Falcon 9 — which had flown seven times in the past — successfully landed on a sea-based drone landing pad.
Falcon 9's landing conditions could mean fewer scrubbed missions
This Wednesday launch is also historic because it involved a landing attempt within so-called "envelope expansion" conditions — where the winds in the drone recovery ship's landing zone exceeded the company's defined safety window to complete landings without incident.
With this latest success, SpaceX may up its wind-speed maximum tolerance for Falcon 9 recovery — which could mean fewer canceled launches from unfriendly weather.
Wednesday's launch came on the heels of a scrubbed Tuesday launch (Jan. 19), when SpaceX decided another day was needed to push the Falcon 9 rocket through additional pre-launch checkouts, since this was to be and became the first time the company's workhorse rocket booster flew eight sequential missions.
Same Falcon 9 lifted Dragon spacecraft
This delay proved wise as the super-veteran rocket blasted off, landing on the "Just Read The Instructions" drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean without issues — a feat that also marked the 72nd landing for a SpaceX rocket.
The Falcon 9 rocket of today's launch is one of two record-setting boosters active in SpaceX's total fleet. Called B1051, this veteran booster also broke a record in making the fastest turnaround times between flights — since this one flew as recently as late 2020, on Dec. 13.
As of writing, the B1051 Falcon 9 booster has lifted several types of payloads into low-Earth orbit — including the uncrewed Dragon spacecraft, which rendezvoused with the International Space Station during a 2019 flight test. It later launched three satellites for Canada, and four distinct Starlink missions.
SpaceX may have bought two oil rigs for Starship launches
During the Falcon 9's December 2020 flight, it lifted a 15,432-lb (7,000-kg) Sirius XM satellite into low-Earth orbit — due to connect Sirius subscribers to content throughout Canada, the U.S., and even the Caribbean.
This Wednesday flight also marks the 102nd flight for SpaceX's two-stage Falcon 9 rocket model. As of writing, SpaceX has two fully-functional drone-ship landing platforms: "Of Course I Still Love You," and "Just Read The Instructions." But two more landing platforms might be on the horizon for the company.
On Tuesday, reports suggested SpaceX may have bought two oil rigs from which to launch and land future Starship missions to Mars. With these potentially in-hand, the record-setting Falcon 9 launch of 60 more Starlink satellites sets a promising precedent for the private firm.