CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A new decade of rocket launches began Monday evening as a SpaceX Falcon 9 thundered away from America’s Space Coast to place 60 internet-relay satellites into orbit.
This launch was confirmed as the first official rocket launch under the new U.S. Space Force.
SpaceX is in the midst of building and launching their own network of data and Internet spacecraft known as Starlink. The commercial company hopes to blanket the Earth with thousands of Starlink spacecraft located at about 350 miles above.
The Falcon 9 launched on time at 9:19 p.m. EST, from launch complex 40 at Cape Canaveral AFS. This was the fourth mission for this reusable Falcon first stage.
Riding a top a 300-foot golden flame into the clear night, Falcon’s nine Merlin 1D engines pushed the candle stick rocket skyward. Just over two minutes after launch, the main stage separated, fired it’s thrusters, and began its short journey back to Earth.
Meanwhile, the second stage’s engines continued the payload’s journey to low Earth orbit.
Nearly nine minutes following launch, the Falcon’s first stage booster completed a successful pin-point return. The burnt candle stick touched down on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles off the South Carolina coast.
Sixty-one minutes into the mission, the 60 flat-panel satellites were successfully deployed. Each Starlink weighs 260 Kg and features four array antennas and one large solar array.
“After deployment, over the course of one to four months, the satellites use their on board thrusters to raise from an altitude of 290 km to 550 km,” SpaceX Spokesperson James Gleeson said. “During this phase of flight the satellites are closely clustered and their solar arrays are in a special low-drag configuration, making them appear more visible from the ground.”
SpaceX expects to launch two more Starlink batches of sixty during the next month. That will bring the combined total of Starlink spacecraft to 300.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)