SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral with 23 Starlink satellites

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 23 Starlink satellites lifts off from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 7, 2024. Photo: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now.

The next batch of 23 Starlink satellites for SpaceX’s space-based internet service roard into orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket launched Sunday from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 5:35 p.m. EST (2235 UTC).

SpaceX had earlier announced a four-hour launch window that opened at 4 p.m. EST (2100 UTC), but it needs to clear the way for the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket from neighboring pad 41. The rocket was only raised upright on the launch pad at around 1 p.m. EST leaving crews racing to meet the new target launch time of 5:35 p.m. EST.

SpaceX’s Vice President of Launch said in a post on the social media network X, it was “a new Falcon record for total time from hangar rollout to launch. 6 Hrs, 33 minutes.” The company has set the objective of launching 144 Falcon missions this year. To date it has flown three successful missions in 2024.

The Falcon 9 rocket goes upright at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Photo: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now.

The first stage booster supporting this flight, tail number B1067, was making its 16th flight, becoming just the fourth booster to reach that milestone. There are only three other boosters with a longer flight history that are still in use after B1058 was unintentionally destroyed during the recovery process:

  • B1058 – 19 flights (destroyed)
  • B1060 – 17 flights (next flight TBD)
  • B1061 – 17 flights (next flight TBD)
  • B1062 – 17 flights (next flight TBD)

B1060, B1061 and B1067 all have the distinction of launching two Crew Dragon spacecraft each during their lifetimes. B1080 is set to join that club later this month when it launches on its fifth flight with the Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) astronauts aboard Crew Dragon Freedom.

About eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, B1067 landed on the droneship ‘A Shortfall of Gravitas.’ This was the 56th successful booster landing on ASOG since it was put into the mix. The other East Coast-based droneship, ‘Just Read the Instructions,’ is still out of commission for servicing in North Carolina.

The Falcon 9 creates a spectacular smoke ring as it soars toward space on the Starlink 6-35 mission. Photo: Michael Cain/Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX confirmed a successful deployment of the 23 Starlink V2 mini satellites just over an hour into flight.

The next SpaceX mission on deck is the Starlink 7-10 flight, set to launch from Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base on Tuesday, Jan. 9, with a window that opens around 9 p.m. PST (12 a.m. EST, 0500 UTC on Jan. 9). SpaceX has not announced the number of Starlink satellites that will be onboard that flight or if there will more of the new Starlinks that feature direct-to-cell functionality. It will be followed by another Starlink delivery mission from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 13.

Starship news on the horizon

The launches come as news regarding SpaceX’s Starship rocket is set to be on the horizon. Just over a week ago on his social media site, X, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said he would be giving a company talk to SpaceX employees to mark their 2023 accomplishments and discuss the year ahead.

Recently, during an unrelated livestream on X, Musk stated that the talk would likely take place on Thursday, Jan. 11, and would include updates on the company’s Starship rocket. If this happens, it would mark the first substantial update on the pivotal launch program since the second integrated flight test launched from Starbase in southern Texas in November.

There has been a flurry of activity at the development and launch site in recent weeks, including the test firings of both Ship 28 and Booster 10. SpaceX referred to them as the Flight 3 Starship and Flight 3 Super Heavy Booster respectively in social media posts.

SpaceX said in posts that a single engine was fired on the Starship upper stage “demonstrating a flight-like startup for an in-space burn.” Following the test firings, eagle-eyed viewers spotted SpaceX testing the payload bay door on the Starship, potentially indicating that this next mission could include some kind of payload.

The forthcoming announcement from Musk will come on the heels of another marquee event next week that could concern the rocket. In a late Friday notice to members of the press, NASA announced that it will hold a media teleconference to discuss the latest on the Artemis program and the return of humans to the Moon.

The update will be led by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and will feature Jim Free, who as of the start of 2024, is now the NASA Associate Administrator, following the retirement of Bob Cabana. Catherine Koerner, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, and Amit Kshatriya, the deputy associate administrator for the Moon to Mars Program will also be participating.

The notice to the press also stated that “Industry partner representatives also will be available to answer questions,” though it doesn’t explicitly state if that includes SpaceX or the developer of the lunar spacesuits set to debut on the Artemis 3 mission, Axiom Space.