Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starlink 4-9 mission will launch SpaceX’s next batch of 47 Starlink broadband satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.
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A package of 47 more Starlink internet satellites launched Thursday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX launched the satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:25 a.m. EST (1425 GMT).
The Falcon 9 launch Thursday followed a similar profile as recent Starlink missions, heading southeast over the Atlantic Ocean to place the satellites into an orbital plane tilted 53.2 degrees to the equator.
The rocket’s reusable first stage flew on its 11th mission, tying a record for Falcon booster reuse held by two other vehicles in SpaceX’s fleet. This booster is numbered B1060 in SpaceX’s inventory, and its first flight was in June 2020 with a U.S. Space Force GPS satellite.
Nine kerosene-fueled Merlin engines powered the Falcon 9 off the launch pad with 1.7 million pounds of thrust. The first stage detached about two-and-a-half minutes into the mission and plunged back into the atmosphere, landing on SpaceX’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas.
The second stage fired its single engine moments before jettison of the Falcon 9’s two-piece nose cone, revealing the flat-packed, quarter-ton Starlink satellites after soaring above the boundary of space. The nose fairing shells were expected to fall into the sea under parachute for recovery and reuse.
The upper stage cut off at T+plus 8 minutes, 46 seconds, then began a coast over the Caribbean, South America, and the South Atlantic. A brief restart fo the upper stage engine was planned around 57 minutes into the mission to place the Starlink satellites into an orbit between 189 miles and 197 miles (305 and 317 kilometers) above Earth.
The Starlink satellites were expected to release from Falcon 9 nearly 66 minutes after liftoff. Once free of the rocket, the spacecraft will deploy their solar panels and turn on ion engines to begin climbing to an operational altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers).
The launch continued SpaceX’s busy start to the year. It was SpaceX’s ninth mission since Jan. 1, and the 10th launch from Florida’s Space Coast this year, coming less than two days after the liftoff of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.
With the 47 new satellites that went up Thursday, SpaceX has launched 2,234 Starlink spacecraft to date, including prototypes and older models no longer in service. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who regularly tracks spaceflight activity, estimated SpaceX had 1,945 functioning Starlink satellites in orbit, as of Wednesday.
SpaceX doesn’t release information on the health and status of its Starlink satellites.
The launch Thursday occurred just six days after SpaceX’s previous Starlink mission from California. SpaceX plans another Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 rocket March 8, putting the company closer to reaching a goal of deploying roughly 4,400 Starlink satellites to beam high-speed, low-latency internet services around the world.
Eventually, SpaceX has signaled in regulatory filings it wants to operate as many as 42,000 internet satellites, all flying in low Earth orbit a few hundred miles above the planet.
SpaceX said last week the Starlink network is already providing services to consumers in 29 global markets. The network recently expanded to Ukraine to provide internet service there amid Russia’s military invasion of the country.
Read our mission preview story for more details.
ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1060.11)
PAYLOAD: 47 Starlink satelllites (Starlink 4-9)
LAUNCH SITE: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
LAUNCH DATE: March 3, 2022
LAUNCH TIME: 9:25:00 a.m. EST (1425:00 GMT)
WEATHER FORECAST: 90% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of unfavorable conditions for booster recovery
BOOSTER RECOVERY: “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship near the Bahamas
LAUNCH AZIMUTH: Southeast
TARGET ORBIT: 189 miles by 197 miles (305 kilometers by 317 kilometers), 53.2 degrees inclination
- T+00:00: Liftoff
- T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
- T+02:31: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
- T+02:35: Stage separation
- T+02:42: Second stage engine ignition
- T+02:47: Fairing jettison
- T+06:49: First stage entry burn ignition (three engines)
- T+07:09: First stage entry burn cutoff
- T+08:25: First stage landing burn ignition (one engine)
- T+08:46: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
- T+08:47: First stage landing
- T+56:45: Second stage restart
- T+56:46: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 2)
- T+1:05:47: Starlink satellite separation
- 143rd launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
- 151st launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
- 11th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1060
- 125th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
- 139th launch overall from pad 39A
- 45th SpaceX launch overall from pad 39A
- 86th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
- 39th dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites
- 9th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
- 9th launch by SpaceX in 2022
- 10th orbital launch based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022
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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.