SpaceX continued its rapid deployment of Starlink internet satellites with a launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Sunday night. The mission marked the second Starlink launch in two days and the 53rd of the year for the company.
A smooth liftoff and landing
A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 4E at 11:57 p.m. EDT (8:57 p.m. PDT and 0357 GMT on Monday), carrying 15 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. The launch was delayed by about 15 minutes due to a range issue, but the rocket performed flawlessly during the ascent.
About nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage landed on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, stationed in the Pacific Ocean. It was the fifth flight and landing for this particular booster, which previously launched two Starlink missions, a SiriusXM satellite and a NASA cargo mission to the International Space Station.
The second stage continued to orbit, where it deployed the 15 Starlink satellites about 14.5 minutes after liftoff. The satellites will join the existing constellation of nearly 5,000 Starlink spacecraft, which provide high-speed, low-latency internet service to customers around the world.
A busy weekend for SpaceX
The launch from Vandenberg was the second Starlink mission in as many days for SpaceX, which also launched 22 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Saturday night. The company has now launched 4,903 Starlink satellites to date, of which 4,530 are currently operational, according to satellite tracker and astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.
SpaceX is aiming to provide global coverage with its Starlink network, which operates in a constellation of multiple orbital planes at an altitude of about 550 kilometers (340 miles). The company has been launching Starlink satellites in batches of varying sizes, depending on the availability of launch opportunities and customer demand.
SpaceX also offers rideshare opportunities for other payloads to share the Falcon 9 rocket with Starlink satellites, as it did with two BlackSky Earth observation satellites on Saturday’s launch. The company has a dedicated rideshare program that allows small satellite operators to book a slot on a Falcon 9 launch for as low as $1 million.
What’s next for SpaceX
SpaceX is not slowing down its launch cadence, as it has another Starlink mission planned for later this week. A Falcon 9 rocket is expected to launch another batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral on Thursday night, between 8 p.m. and midnight EDT (0000 and 0400 GMT on Friday).
The company is also preparing for its next crewed mission to the International Space Station, which will carry four astronauts on board a Crew Dragon capsule. The Crew-3 mission is scheduled to launch on Oct. 31 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is also developing its next-generation launch system, the Starship and Super Heavy booster, which are designed to carry humans and cargo to the moon, Mars and beyond. The company recently performed a static fire test of its Super Heavy booster at its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, igniting all 33 Raptor engines for about three seconds. The test was a milestone for SpaceX, which hopes to launch its first orbital flight of Starship later this year.