SpaceX has successfully launched 58 more Starlink satellites for its growing internet broadband constellation. This is the eleventh batch of Starlink satellites to go up, bringing the total on orbit to well over 600. Today’s mission also carried three Planet satellites, and used a Falcon 9 first-stage booster that broke a record by flying for the sixth time.
The launch took place at 10:31 AM EDT (7:31 AM PDT) from SpaceX’s launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It also included a recovery attempt for the record-setting reused booster, which performed a sixth landing (also record setting) at sea on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” floating drone landing barge. That successful recovery means that the booster can potentially be used yet again, breaking its own record set today.
Today’s launch vehicle also used a re-flown fairing, which had been recovered from SpaceX’s fourth Starlink mission and refurbished to use again. Overall, it represents the biggest achievement yet in SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s goal of eventually being able to fully reuse nearly every aspect of his company’s spacecraft for retreat missions, which should help dramatically reduce the overall cost of rocket flights.
As for Starlink, it appears to be progressing well toward SpaceX’s planned beta service launch sometime this year, which will cover parts of the U.S. and Canada. Recently, PCMag reported that Ookla’s Speedtest site for measuring internet connection speeds has been seeing some seemingly legitimate results for Starlink service, which is likely in early (possibly internal only) testing mode using the existing satellites on orbit.
The launch today also included a launch recovery attempt, using SpaceX’s “Ms. Chief” and “Ms. Tree” ships at sea. SpaceX noted via Twitter that Ms. Tree did catch one half of the fairing — the other half presumably ended up in the ocean, but could still be retrieved and refurbished.