SpaceX caps busy week with launch of 57 more Starlink satellites
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted back into space early Friday, boosting another 57 Starlink internet relay stations into orbit along with two BlackSky remote sensing microsatellites. The launching of the first stage booster marked its fifth flight.
It capped a busy week for the California rocket builder beginning with the successful splashdown of a Crew Dragon capsule Sunday that brought two NASA astronauts back to Earth from the International Space Station.
The flight was the first to orbit for NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.
Two days after splashdown, SpaceX engineers in Boca Chica, Texas, carried out the first up-and-down test flight of a prototype upper stage for the company’s planned heavy-lift Starship rocket system.
“What a week it’s been here at SpaceX,” John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer and launch commentator, said after the latest batch of Starlinks was deployed. “We’ve capped it off with our 10th successful Starlink mission to date.”
Minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s second stage separated from the first-stage booster and headed onward to orbit.
The booster flew itself back to a touchdown on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean — a rocket recovery procedure that has now become routine. The satellites were successfully deployed from the second stage over the course of an hour and a half.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellites were manufactured at the company’s facility in Redmond, Wash.
They represent the first full batch of spacecraft outfitted with sunshades to reduce the glare from their antennas. The “Visor Sat” design was developed to respond to concerns about past satellites’ interference with astronomical observations.
Since Elon Musk’s company began launching the small satellites over a year ago, astronomers and other observers have been surprised and even disturbed by the amount of sunlight the orbiting routers reflect, often interfering with scientific observations.
It’s been quite the week for SpaceX. On Sunday, the Crew Dragon returned to Earth from the International Space Station, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.
In addition, the SN5 Starship prototype completed a short “hop” at the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The thermos-shaped prototype, a precursor to a potential Mars-bound spaceship, launched 500 feet into the air and nailed the landing, leading Musk to quip “Mars is looking real.”