As part of two simultaneous liftoffs that happened just hours apart, SpaceX launched the first of two further batches of its Starlink broadband satellites today, January 28.
Launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida today at 6:15 p.m. EST (2315 GMT) was a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 23 Starlink satellites.
From Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, another Falcon 9 will launch 22 additional Starlinks into orbit during a roughly four-hour window that begins today at 9:16 p.m. EST (6:16 p.m. local time, and 02:16 GMT on January 29).
The first stage of the Falcon 9 returned to Earth in Florida around 8.5 minutes after liftoff, as predicted on the west coast, to land on a SpaceX drone ship that was positioned at sea.
As to SpaceX, this was the 18th booster launch and landing from KSC, and the next one from Vandenberg will be the 9th. With just one Falcon 9 launch last month, the company’s record for reuse stands at 19 launches.
After each launch today, the Starlink batches will be sent into low Earth orbit by the Falcon 9 upper stages, which will take somewhat more than an hour.
The eight and ninth launches of the year for SpaceX, which has stated that it hopes to complete 144 orbital trips by 2024, occurred today.
Consistent with that audacious plan, another SpaceX mission is quickly approaching: on Tuesday, January 30, a Falcon 9 is set to launch Northrop Grumman’s unmanned Cygnus supply vehicle in the direction of the International Space Station.
The Starlink doubleheader takes place on a depressing anniversary. Less than two minutes after takeoff, on January 28, 1986, NASA’s space shuttle Challenger broke apart, killing all seven of the men aboard.