SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Starlink mission

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket streaks across the sky above Florida’s Space Coast amid the Starlink 6-31 mission. Image: Adam Bernstein

SpaceX continued a busy weekend with the launch of another batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station late Saturday night. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 occurred at 11:00 p.m. EST (0400 UTC).

Overcoming weather hurdles, the Starlink 6-31 mission marked SpaceX’s second launch in less than 40 hours. U.S. Space Force meteorologists had been concerned about the potential for rocket-trigger lightning from thick cloud layers and cumulus clouds. They also listed a low to moderate risk of upper level wind shear posing a threat. But in the end the Falcon 9 faced only a thin layer of cloud cover in the sky over Cape Canaveral.

SpaceX had pushed back the launch from Friday night. It did not provide an explanation but the Falcon 9 was not on the pad in time for the original launch date.

The first-stage booster for this launch, tail number B1078, was making its sixth flight after first launching the Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station on March 2, 2023. It also launched the O3b mPOWER 3 and 4 satellites as well as three Starlink missions.

About eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, it landed on the droneship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” out in the Atlantic Ocean. According to SpaceX, it was the 251st landing of an orbital class rocket after the Korea 425 mission’s landing at Vandenberg Space Force Base’s Landing Zone 4 claimed the distinction of landing number 250 on Friday.

The recovery vessel named “Doug” was positioned in the Atlantic to retrieve the payload fairing halves after they splash down.

The 23 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink network were deployed from the second stage of the Falcon 9 about one hour, five minutes into flight.

The launch from pad 40 wasn’t the only SpaceX activity on the Space Coast. Beginning Saturday morning, crews rolled out a Falcon Heavy rocket from the hangar at Launch Complex 39A to the pad.

A Falcon Heavy rocket rolls out from the hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. The rocket will undergo a static fire test in preparation for the USSF-52 mission set for no earlier than Dec. 10, 2023. Image: Spaceflight Now

The operation paves the way for a static fire test on Sunday in anticipation of the USSF-52 mission launch scheduled for a week later on Dec. 10. It will be the first time the Falcon Heavy has been used to launch the U.S. military’s X-37B spaceplane. A launch window has not been publicly announced.