ORLANDO, Fla. — SpaceX took a couple weeks off, but sent up another batch of Starlink satellites to add to its expanding internet empire.
The Falcon 9 rocket with 46 Starlinks on board lifted off under clear skies at 9:44 a.m. from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The launch from Space Launch Complex 40 took a southerly trajectory with the first stage booster, making its 11th flight, landing the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas in the Atlantic Ocean.
The landing marks the 100th time a Falcon 9 booster was successfully recovered, and 107th booster recovery overall including Falcon Heavy launches. The company also was reusing the two fairing halves for the fourth time and will attempt their recovery at sea. To date, the company has flown 32 missions using recovered fairing halves, part of measures to lower costs on its launches.
The company’s last launch ran into issues after its payload of 49 Starlink satellites were deployed, and 40 of them were dragged back down to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere after fallout from a geomagnetic storm.
This batch, the fourth Starlink mission of the year, though, continues the faster pace of launches planned for 2022. It’s the seventh liftoff for the company across all its launch sites so far in 2022 and 145th SpaceX launch overall. Company founder Elon Musk said earlier this month the company is aiming for 50 launches this year, which would surpass 2021′s record of 31 from Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center and Vandenburg Space Force Base in California.
The number of Starlinks launched is now pushed to more than 2,100, but more than 200 of those never became or are no longer operational.
This flight is the 38th Starlink flight overall since the first operational versions of the 570-pound satellites were sent up in 2019. The company currently has approval to place 4,408 Starlinks into service, each of which orbit at around 341 miles altitude.
The Starlink program at full capacity looks to provide the company billions of dollars from millions of internet subscribers across the planet and help pay for SpaceX’s missions to Mars.
SpaceX is seeking Federal Communications Commission approval to increase its Starlink presence to about 30,000 with future launches on board its in-the-works Starship rocket. Other companies such as Amazon are also planning constellations of satellites that will increase the potential for debris in space.
The Union of Concerned Scientists maintain a database of the number of operational satellites in orbit. As of Jan. 1, there were 4,852 in orbit, including 4,078 in low Earth orbit.