With the flight on Sunday, SpaceX has now launched 835 Starlinks on a rapidly growing global network that will eventually contain thousands of commercial broadband beacons that deliver high-speed Internet to anywhere on earth. To achieve this goal, the company plans to launch at least 120 new Starlinks every month.
The final Starlink mission, SpaceX’s 14th, began at 8:26 a.m.CET when the Falcon 9’s nine first stage engines ignited with a burst of flame and the sleek rocket of Pad 39A in the Kennedy Space Center hit 1.7 million Pound of thrust.
On the sixth flight, the first stage propelled the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere and then dropped to land an offshore drone ship. Touchdown was SpaceX’s 62nd successful booster recovery since December 2015, the 42nd at sea.
Less than a minute after the stage split, the two halves of the missile’s nose cone fairing, both veterans of two previous missions, fell off for parachute descents to capture the network of salvage ships waiting on board. Both were successfully recovered, although one appeared to break the net and possibly hit the deck of his ship.
The second stage has meanwhile been put into orbit, and after two ignitions of the vacuum-rated Merlin engine, all 60 starlinks were cleared for self-flight about an hour after take-off.
The launch on Sunday marked SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 flight since October 2, when a last-second crash blocked the launch of a Space Force Global Positioning System navigation satellite. That flight remains on hold as the company’s engineers evaluate an obvious problem with turbopump machines for engines.
SpaceX has not provided details on how the engines on Sunday and the engines used during a Starlink flight on October 18 might differ from those used for the GPS mission.
Likewise, there was no word from SpaceX or NASA as to whether the engine problem posed a threat to the planned launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 next month.
The launch on Sunday marked the 18th Falcon 9 flight that year, the 95th since the rocket’s debut in 2010, the 98th with three launches of the triple-core Falcon Heavy. The Falcon 9 suffered two catastrophic failures, one in flight and one during pre-launch tests.
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