SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink satellites to orbit, nails rocket landing at sea

22:40, Thursday, 11 March, 2021
SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink satellites to orbit, nails rocket landing at sea

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lit up the predawn sky early this morning (March 11) as it carried a new batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit, before nailing its landing on a floating platform at sea.
     The two-stage Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 3:13 a.m. EST (0813 GMT). About 8.5 minutes later, the rocket's reusable first stage returned to Earth for its sixth landing, touching down on one of SpaceX's drone ships. The floating platform, called "Just Read the Instructions," was stationed out in the Atlantic Ocean, about 400 miles (630 kilometers) downrange.
     It was a clear night in Florida for the mission's second attempt. The launch was originally planned to occur on Tuesday night (March 9) but was pushed back so SpaceX could conduct more prelaunch checkouts. Weather forecasters at the U.S. Space Force's 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 90% chance of favorable conditions for launch this morning, and Mother Nature delivered.

This latest liftoff marked SpaceX's seventh mission of 2021 and the company's 21st 60-satellite Starlink launch overall. It starred one of the better known Falcon 9 first stages in the fleet — B1058.
     Emblazoned with a now-sooty NASA worm logo, B1058 is the booster that delivered two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in May of last year, returning orbital human spaceflight to U.S. soil with SpaceX's Demo-2 mission.

The veteran launcher also delivered a cargo Dragon spacecraft to the ISS, a communications satellite for South Korea's military and the most satellites ever launched on a single mission (Transporter-1). Today, B1058 carried its second stack of Starlink satellites.

The predawn spectacle marked the 110th overall flight of a Falcon 9 rocket and the 56th reflight of a Falcon 9 first stage. It was the sixth mission for this particular booster, and SpaceX set a new record for fastest turnaround time for a rocket with this many flights under its belt.

B1058 last flew on Jan. 24, and it blasted off again from the same launch pad this morning, just 45 days later; the previous record for such a veteran booster was 59 days.

     SpaceX relies heavily on its fleet of veteran rockets, which have enabled the company to keep up with its launch ambitions. However, SpaceX has always stressed that, while booster recovery is beneficial, the main goal of each mission is to successfully deliver the payload to space.
     The company recovered a first stage for the first time in 2015, when a Falcon 9 booster touched down on terra firma at one of the company's Florida landing pads. Ever since, SpaceX has been striving to better understand the recovery process and how much wear and tear each launch puts on the rocket.
     With each recovery attempt, the company has been able to refine its process and reduce times between flights. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has said that his long-term vision involves rockets that resemble airplanes, in the sense that they lift off, land, refuel and lift off again in short order.

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