A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, using a first stage making its seventh flight, boosted 50 more Starlink internet satellites into orbit Wednesday, pushing the total launched to date to 1,445. Thousands more are planned as the company continues building out its fleet of broadband relay stations.
SpaceX’s 10th flight of the year got underway at 12:34 p.m. EDT when the Falcon 9’s nine first-stage engines ignited and throttled up to full thrust, propelling the 229-foot-tall rocket away from pad 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Following a northeasterly trajectory, the first stage quickly climbed out of the thick lower atmosphere, shutting down and falling away two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.
While the second stage’s single engine continued the climb to orbit, the first stage flipped around and headed for landing on an off-shore droneship, chalking up SpaceX’s 79th successful first stage recovery, its 57th at sea.
The Falcon 9’s single second-stage engine fired twice to reach the targeted 186-mile-high deploy orbit, and all 60 Starlinks were released in a single batch one hour and four minutes after launch.
SpaceX has approval to launch thousands of Starlink satellites for a global network of internet relay stations providing relatively high-speed broadband access to customers anywhere in the world. Beta testing currently is underway in North America and Europe.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the Starlink network currently has a “global reach,” but “we don’t have full connectivity globally.”
“We hope after about 28 launches, we’ll have continuous coverage throughout the (world),” she said at a conference Tuesday. “And then the plan after that is to continue to add satellites to provide additional capacity. We will do some polar launches starting this summer to get connectivity over the poles as well.”