SpaceX sends 23 Starlink satellites to orbit on 90th Falcon launch of 2023

A Falcon 9 rocket stands at the pad at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The rocket is supporting the Starlink 6-33 mission for SpaceX. Image: Adam Bernstein

Update 12:20 a.m. EST: SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and landed the booster on the droneship.

SpaceX hit another milestone with its overnight Starlink mission launch. The flight from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station marks the company’s 90th orbital launch in 2023 and its 280th Falcon 9 launch to date. Liftoff of the Starlink 6-33 mission took place at 12:07 p.m. EST (0507 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 40.

Weather for the mission was ideal at liftoff, but meteorologists kept their eye on the picture downrange as well. Liftoff winds were the only watch item in a forecast that predicts 95 percent favorable weather.

“A secondary push of cold air will filter into the area [on Wednesday], bringing clear skies and a stronger pressure gradient over the Space Coast,” the launch forecast stated. “This will result in gusty surface winds through tomorrow evening which will slowly diminish through the launch window, so liftoff winds remain the only concern.”

The forecast also noted that upper-level wind shear is considered “low to moderate” and was highlighted under the Additional Risk Criteria section.

The Starlink 6-33 mission marks the fourth fastest turnaround for SpaceX’s workhorse launchpad, SLC-40, at four days, one hour, six minutes and 40 seconds since the last launch from here. This mission will be the 159th SpaceX orbital launch from this pad.

The first stage booster used for the launch was tail number 1077, which launched on its ninth flight with this mission. Notable previous launches include Crew-5 and GPS 3 Space Vehicle 06.

It landed on the drone ship, Just Read the Instructions, about eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The 23 satellites on board bring the total launched in 2023 up to 1,871.

An infographic from analytics firm BryceTech, which illustrates the amount of spacecraft upmass sent to orbit during Q3 in 2023. Graphic: BryceTech

Reposting an infographic from analytics firm BryceTech, SpaceX founder Elon Musk stated that the company is “tracking to launch over 80 percent of all Earth payload to orbit this year.” It’s Q3 report states that out of the 63 orbital launches around the world, SpaceX accounted for 26 of them.

Broken down further, SpaceX launched significantly more to space than the rest of the world combined. It launched 519 spacecraft during Q3 compared to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the next closest, which launched 24 spacecraft.

The stat that Musk quoted from BryceTech was one that he often likes to hold up, which is spacecraft upmass to orbit. That chart shows in Q3, SpaceX launched 381,278 kg to orbit, followed by CASC at 24,560 kg and Roscosmos with 17,475 kg.

Meanwhile, over at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, teams continue to work towards what likely will end up being the final launch from that pad in 2023. The Falcon Heavy supporting the USSF-52 mission rolled back into the adjacent hanger Tuesday evening in anticipation of integrating the X-37B spaceplane onto the rocket.

Launch of the ninth Falcon Heavy to date continues to target Dec. 10.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket supporting the USSF-52 mission rolled back to the hangar at Launch Complex 39A for payload integration. The mission launching the X-37B is targeting liftoff on Dec. 10. Image: Spaceflight Now