SpaceX launches 52 Starlink satellites, lands rocket on ship at sea (Image Credit: Space.com)
SpaceX launched 52 more of its Starlink broadband satellites early Wednesday morning (May 31) and landed the returning rocket on a ship at sea.
The Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth as planned about 8 minutes and 45 seconds after launch on Wednesday. It made a vertical touchdown on the SpaceX droneship Of Course I Still Love You, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean.
It was the 14th launch and landing for this particular booster, according to a SpaceX mission description. Among its previous 13 flights were Crew-1 and Crew-2, astronaut missions that SpaceX flew to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA.
The Falcon 9’s upper stage, meanwhile, continued hauling the 52 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. It deployed them all about 17.5 minutes after launch as planned, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter.
SpaceX has now launched more than 4,500 Starlink satellites, more than 4,100 of which are currently active, according to astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.
But many more will go up in the coming weeks and months. The company already has permission to send 12,000 Starlink satellites to orbit, and it has applied for approval to launch another 30,000 on top of that.
Wednesday’s Starlink launch came just a few hours after a SpaceX Dragon capsule returned to Earth. That spacecraft, named Freedom, flew the private Ax-2 astronaut mission to the space station for Houston company Axiom Space. Freedom undocked from the ISS on Tuesday morning (May 30) and splashed down off the Florida coast 12 hours later, at 11:04 p.m. EDT (0304 GMT on May 31).
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:20 a.m. ET on May 31 with news of successful launch and rocket landing, then again at 2:38 a.m. ET with news of satellite deployment.