Starlink: SpaceX flies a Falcon 9 first stage for a record 12th time

The booster used for SpaceX's first crewed mission launched another 53 Starlink satellites.
Chris Young
The launch of SpaceX's latest Starlink mission.SpaceX

SpaceX set a booster reuse record when it flew a Falcon 9 rocket for the 12th time on Saturday, March 19, before making another successful touchdown.

The Falcon 9 launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:42 a.m. EDT (04:42 GMT), taking another 53 of SpaceX's Starlink internet satellites into low Earth orbit.

The first stage booster used for this mission previously launched SpaceX's first crewed flight in May 2020, the Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. It has also launched eight other Starlink missions.

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Only nine minutes after launch, the first stage came down for another precise landing on the droneship Just Read the Instructions, which was floating on the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. The Falcon 9's second stage continued up into orbit, deploying all of the 53 Starlink spacecraft roughly an hour after takeoff. 

NASA warns of Starlink problems as SpaceX continues to build its mega constellation

SpaceX has courted controversy and also garnered praise for its Starlink program in recent weeks, months, and years. The private space company has launched more than 2,000 Starlink satellites to date, and it aims to eventually send more than 30,000 up into low Earth orbit.

SpaceX's biggest partner NASA recently warned that the Starlink mega constellation has the potential to make it harder for astronomers to detect a potentially catastrophic asteroid collision. However, the U.S. space agency works closely with SpaceX and it has contracted the private space firm to build a rocket that will land on the Moon later this decade. SpaceX has added sun shields called VisorSat to its latest Stalink satellites, though these have made a relatively minor change to the light reflected off of the satellites.

The Starlink program has also garnered public praise in recent weeks, as the technology has allowed civilians and troops in Ukraine to remain connected to the internet amid Russia's ongoing invasion of the country. In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Ukraine's Vice Prime Minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, noted that the country is "using thousands, in the area of thousands, of terminals with new shipments arriving every other day."

Starlink will also be tested for use in space communications by the upcoming all-civilian Polaris Dawn mission, which will also carry out the first commercial spacewalk. SpaceX's capacity for reusable rocket launches continues to grow, as do the satellite constellations surrounding our planet, for better and for worse.

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