SpaceX breaks annual flight record with latest Starlink mission
SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink satellites, as well as two rideshare payloads for BlackSky, into low Earth orbit atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Liftoff occurred at 6:12 p.m. EST (23:12 UTC) Dec. 2, 2021, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket carried 48 Starlink satellites as well as two Earth observation satellites for BlackSky.
Following its role in sending the satellites into orbit, the first stage of this Falcon 9 rocket, B1060, landed successfully on SpaceX’s drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” located some 385 miles (620 kilometers) downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the ninth flight for this particular first stage.
The fairing halves, which protected the 50 spacecraft from the lower atmosphere, are expected to be scooped up and recovered by Bob, another one of SpaceX support ships.
Meanwhile, the second stage with the payload continued toward a parking orbit, cutting its engine off some nine minutes after liftoff.
About 50 minutes later, the second stage reignited to finalize its orbit before deploying the rideshare satellites. The Starlink satellites were deployed about 90 minutes after liftoff.
This launch was the 32nd dedicated Starlink mission overall, boosting the total number of satellites launched to date to 1,892. Including this batch, there some 1,700 currently active in orbit around Earth.
Currently, 30 more launches are needed to fill this Starlink shell, which is the second being constructed.
This first phase of the company’s internet constellation has five orbital shells. Starlink is SpaceX’s low-latency internet service designed to provide near-global coverage where ground-based internet is insufficient.
The constellation will not be complete until 42,000 Starlink satellites are in low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX.
Starlink satellites are expected to earn a profit of $30-50 billion annually, which could be used to fund the company’s Starship program and Mars exploration plans, once the constellation is complete.
This was SpaceX’s 27th launch of 2021, which breaks the company’s record for orbital launches in a calendar year.
Overall, this was the 75th flight of a previously-flown booster and the 130th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since its debut in 2010.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.