SpaceX's first launch in 2021 put a Turkish satellite into orbit

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral to put a Turkish communications satellite in space this week. The launch marked the first of 2021 and the first of more than 40 Falcon rocket missions scheduled for 2021. All of those missions will be launched from Florida and California.

The heavy pace of rocket launches scheduled for 2021 would break the SpaceX record of 26 Falcon 9 flights in 2020. Naturally, that assumes SpaceX can launch all of the rockets this year. Thursday's mission placed a satellite in orbit that is Turkish-owned and was built by Airbus. It's known as the Turksat 5 communications satellite.

While the launch itself went off without a hitch, there was a delay of more than 45 minutes while mission controllers assessed the readiness of a downrange tracking station in Gabon. SpaceX eventually continued with the mission without the tracking antenna. The Falcon 9 lit its engines and lifted off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 9:15 PM EST on Thursday.

The path of the rocket took it due east from Cape Canaveral, with the Falcon 9 first stage falling away about 2.5 minutes into the flight. The first stage descended towards a SpaceX drone ship about 400 miles east of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean. The booster was able to execute a perfect vertical landing, and two other ships were downrange to retrieve the Falcon 9 2-piece payload shroud.

Turkish ground teams have confirmed that they received the first radio signals from the satellite after launch. Controllers have begun health verifications and post-launch checkouts before the satellite begins operations. The satellite weighs around 7500 pounds and is powered by solar panels. It's in a geostationary orbit about 22,000 miles above the equator.