SpaceX Completes Launch of 57 Starlink Satellites With BlackSky Hitchhikers

SpaceX successfully launched 57 more Starlink satellites, and also lifted two BlackSky satellites.
Brad Bergan

SpaceX launched dozens more Starlink internet satellites on Friday at 1:12 AM EDT, according to a live-stream YouTube video. Numbering at 57 satellites, the payload includes two small BlackSky Earth-imaging satellites — the second of what will become a series of Starlink rideshare missions.

Roughly nine minutes after lifting off from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A, the Falcon 9 booster B1051 made a soft touch-down aboard the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY).

Sadly, neither of the two boats launched to capture the payload fairing halves succeeded, reports Space News.


SpaceX launches 57 additional satellites, rocket lands at sea

This was the fourth time SpaceX's drone ship left Florida's Port Canaveral to perform landing duties for Starlink launch efforts. This was the fifth successful launch for the B1051 Falcon 9's first stage.

SpaceX has completed 10 Starlink missions since 2019 — and the 12th mission so far in 2020. This was done via SpaceX's reuse of flight-proven boosters — which allows for an increase in launch frequency.

This comes on the heels of the landmark launch and landing of two NASA astronauts during the Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) — a double-whammy of firsts, as this was the first time private company launched humans into space, and the first time a private company transported astronauts from Earth to the ISS.

'Piggybacking' BlackSky satellites

Within the Falcon 9's nose cone was a stack of 57 internet-capable satellites. The satellites will join hundreds of others already in orbit as part of the Starlink megaconstellation. As of writing, the company has launched 595 Starlink satellites to complete the colossal constellation.

Elon Musk — SpaceX founder and CEO — said the company needs between 400 and 800 Starlink satellites in orbit before it can offer minimal coverage. As the company nears its goal, SpaceX has hinted at the rise of its beta program, during which the company will test out its service for eventual worldwide availability.

Bringing Starlink to fruition

Of course, there are other ways SpaceX is working to bring Starlink service to full operation. Recently, it gained approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to install up to 1 million user terminals.

On the terminals, Musk has said they're not hard to operate and look like a "UFO on a stick," according to Every terminal features actuators to keep it pointed skyward at all times. To use it, consumers of the future will only have to point it up to the sky.

BlackSky satellites piggyback Starlink

Two small Earth-observing satellites — part of BlackSky — piggybacked with Friday's Starlink launch. The cosmic rideshare was organized via another private company, called Spaceflight — which hitches rides to space where it places smaller satellites.

SpaceX has a rideshare program of its own that directly contracts smaller satellites instead of using a third-party mediator. In fact, three other Earth-observing satellites from Planet (out of San Francisco) hitched a ride on the last Starlink mission in July — a deal SpaceX booked.