SpaceX continued the growth of its Starlink satellite constellation with the launch of dozens of more satellites on Saturday
At 6:56 p.m. ET (3:56 p.m. PT) on Saturday, May 15, a Falcon 9 rocket took off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It carried 52 Starlink satellites into orbit, as well as additional payloads from two commercial customers: A synthetic aperture radar satellite for Capella Space and a Tyvak-0130 satellite.
SpaceX livestreamed the launch and shared a clip of the deployment of its satellites on Twitter:
Deployment of 52 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/QqPbBl9gBz
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 16, 2021
SpaceX was also successful in catching the first stage of the rocket. The first stage, or booster, is the lower part of the rocket that holds much of the fuel and which allows the rocket to travel through the atmosphere. Once the fuel is expended and the stage is no longer needed, it falls back to Earth, where it lands on a ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Although this catching maneuver proved tricky to perfect, SpaceX has now become adept at catching boosters. The boosters can then be refurbished and used in other missions, helping to keep the costs of launches down.
SpaceX shared a clip of the first stage landing on the droneship as well:
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship! pic.twitter.com/7QzVxkCuI4
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 15, 2021
This launch is the 28th mission to launch Starlink satellites, bringing the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to over 1,600.
Starlink is a network of satellites that will eventually provide global broadband internet access; a small number of users in some countries already use the service in beta. The beta service launched in October last year, with more than 10,000 users so far. Users purchase hardware consisting of an antenna and pay a monthly fee for access to the service.
Most current beta users are likely to be tech enthusiasts who are interested in trying out cutting-edge technology. But in the future, the service could be used to provide internet access to remote or rural areas which have little or no broadband internet access. Starlink has partnered with a school district in Texas to test out a program to provide free internet access to families in the area, and has received federal funding to bring internet service to rural areas.