Today (24 March) is the 15th anniversary of SpaceX’s first ever launch, which was an unsuccessful flight of its Falcon 1 rocket. This morning’s event, which launched 60 Starlink satellites for the company’s low-orbit broadband internet constellation, fared better.
The satellites took off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. They were launched by the Falcon 9 rocket, which has already been used for three Starlink missions. SpaceX’s newest boat, however, made its first appearance. Called the Shelia Bordelon, the ship pulled the rocket’s protective payload fairings out of the water.
Today’s mission brings the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to 1,300. The goal is to install 1,440 of these flat-panelled satellites in an initial constellation that will bring broadband to people across the globe, particularly in rural areas. Last month, the Black Valley in Co Kerry was reportedly chosen as a pilot location for Starlink.
According to Space.com, SpaceX has said that the constellation could eventually be tens of thousands of satellites strong.
At around nine minutes after take-off, Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth on its sixth successful landing. It was caught by SpaceX’s drone ship, called Of Course I Still Love You, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.
A webcast accompanied the launch, during which SpaceX production supervisor Andy Tran said: “This is the sixth landing for this booster and the 78th landing overall. What a way to start the day.”
Earlier this year, SpaceX was valued at $74bn after raising $850m in funding. The Starlink satellite launch today marks the company’s ninth flight of 2021 so far, a recent example being its Starship rocket prototype that exploded on impact.
Beta-testing of the broadband system is ongoing and available to users in the US, Canada, the UK and New Zealand, says Space.com. SpaceX is already taking preorders before rolling out the service in full later this year. Reserving the service requires a $99 deposit, which can be paid by signing up to SpaceX’s website.
Watch a replay of the Starlink satellite launch here.
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