A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket boosted 53 Starlink internet relay satellites into orbit Friday using a first stage that helped launch the first commercial crew to the International Space Station just three weeks ago.
It was the fastest launch-to-launch turnaround yet for SpaceX’s reusable boosters, helping the California rocket builder chalk up a record sixth Falcon 9 flight in one month, its 17th so far this year and its 151st overall.
The rocket’s latest mission got underway at 5: 27 p.m. EDT when the first stage’s nine engines ignited with a burst of flame, throttled up to 1.7 million pounds of thrust and pushed the slender rocket skyward from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Making its fifth flight, the booster propelled the Falcon 9 out of the dense lower atmosphere before the engines shut down and the stage fell away, handing off to the Falcon 9’s second stage and its single vacuum-rated engine.
While the second stage continued the climb to orbit, the first stage guided itself to a picture-perfect touchdown on an off-shore landing barge eight minutes and 24 seconds after liftoff. Launch and landing came just 21 days after the booster helped propel the Axiom-1 commercial space station mission into orbit on April 8.
The second stage completed two engine firings to reach the desired orbit and about one hour after launch, the 53 Starlink satellites were released to fly on their own.
SpaceX has now launched 2,441 Starlink internet relay stations as the company builds out a globe-spanning constellation of broadband satellites, providing relatively high-speed internet to customers around the world. SpaceX is currently awaiting regulatory approval for thousands of additional launches.
Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He covered 129 space shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune and scores of commercial and military launches. Harwood, based at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, is an avid amateur astronomer who co-authored “Comm Check: Columbia’s Final Flight”. “
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