This week was a busy one for SpaceX, having launched the Crew-3 mission to the ISS. Only days later, SpaceX also launched another Falcon 9 to put 53 Starlink satellites into orbit. This was an interesting flight shrouded in fog at launch but had decent weather above the fog layer.
SpaceX was able to successfully land the Falcon 9 rocket used in the mission, which had been previously flown. The launch occurred at 7:19 AM EST today, November 13. The successful launch marks the 23rd SpaceX launch for the year, and this particular Falcon 9 booster celebrated its ninth flight with today’s launch.
Another interesting tidbit about the Falcon 9 and its successful landing is that it marked the 87th overall successful recovery for the company. SpaceX did lose several boosters early in its program but has the recovery process down at this point. This particular flight was delayed previously for 24 hours due to stormy conditions in Florida.
In the image above, we can still see the dense fog, but it had started to dissipate when the sun came up, and the launch was given the green light. The fog was so dense while the rocket was sitting on the launchpad that you could barely see it, but it was quickly in clear skies once off of the pad. This mission was the first Starlink launch to occur in Florida.
SpaceX was able to successfully recover the first stage booster about nine minutes after launch. Typically, there is a much faster cadence for putting Starlink satellites in orbit. However, it slowed down over the last several months to allow SpaceX to prepare a new generation of Starlink satellites. The new generation of satellites is equipped with laser-based systems for communication in orbit with other satellites while requiring less communication with Earth.
SpaceX used its drone ship called Just Read the Instructions to recover its Falcon 9. It’s the same drone ship used to support the Crew-3 mission, which launched on November 10. Originally, SpaceX was going to use its newest drone ship called A Shortfall of Gravitas, however with all of the delays with the Crew-3 launch, Just Read the Instructions was forced to stay at sea.
It did reportedly endure some significant ways of up to 25 feet high due to storms, which were part of the reason the Crew-3 launch had been delayed. SpaceX did point out that its drone ships are designed to withstand those types of waves. With the successful Starlink launch under its belt, SpaceX now has 1844 satellites in orbit.
The satellites are designed to provide Internet access to users on the ground who pay a monthly fee. Currently, the Starlink Internet service is in beta in many parts of the country, and reports indicate SpaceX has delivered more than 100,000 Starlink Internet terminals. Some users participating in the beta of the service have reported download speeds as high as 100 Mbps. The Internet download speeds for Starlink are likely to improve in the future, and coverage will certainly get better. The service is expected to exit beta soon.
Starlink is approved to operate in 14 countries, and applications are pending for operation in additional countries. In addition, SpaceX will eventually place thousands more Starlink satellites into orbit.