21:50 ET update: Right on schedule, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida on Wednesday night. Minutes later, the first stage roared back to Earth and, for the first time, the same rocket landed for the fifth time. The view from the Just read the instructions drone ship, with a better camera and internet connection, was quite good. The rocket that descended at night lit up the ocean a bright blue before landing.
Meanwhile, the second stage continued into orbit, deploying its payload of 60 Starlink satellites. SpaceX has launched nine rockets this year.
Original post: Just four days after NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken’s historic launch to the International Space Station, SpaceX is gearing up for another launch of its Falcon 9 rocket.
The company plans to make its eighth overall launch of Starlink Internet satellites into low Earth orbit. The 60 satellites, each weighing about 260 kg, will be placed in orbit just over 200 km, and the satellites will then use onboard thrusters to increase their altitude to 550 km.
Launch from SpaceX’s Space Launch Complex 40 pad, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, will take place at 9:25 PM ET (1:25 AM UTC Thursday).
Tuesday, the autonomous drone ship Of course I still love you back from the Demo-2 mission with the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, and the company has shipped Just read the instructions to the landing zone for the Starlink mission. This is the first time SpaceX has used both landing ships in the Atlantic for operational missions.
The first phase of this mission has four previous flights to its credit: launches from the Telstar 18V and Iridium 8 satellites, as well as two Starlink missions.
This will be the second time SpaceX has attempted to fly a Falcon 9 first stage five times. During the company’s first attempt at this in March, the rocket suffered an engine failure on its way to orbit. While the primary mission was successful (despite shutting down one of the engines), the first stage failed to land a drone ship. SpaceX later traced the problem to a solution that was used to clean the engines between flights.
So Wednesday’s launch offers SpaceX another opportunity to continue pushing the boundaries of reusable rockets. The company hopes to eventually fly each Falcon 9 first stage 10 times before retiring or doing a major renovation.
The webcast below should start about 15 minutes before launch.