Three days after scrubbing its scheduled launch, SpaceX has managed to successfully deploy 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.
Moments before Sunday morning’s liftoff, an issue with one of the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines triggered an immediate abort. A second attempt on Wednesday proved more successful.
The SpaceX team (and those tuned into the livestream) watched with bated breath as the booster left Earth on its way to the cosmos. This marks the sixth launch of Starlink satellites—nearly 12,000 of which will eventually circle the Earth.
“Over the next few weeks [the satellites] will distance themselves from each other and eventually use their onboard ion thrusters to make their way to their final orbit,” according to SpaceX manufacturing engineer Jessica Anderson.
The Falcon 9’s fairing—a nose cone used to protect the launch vehicle payload—previously supported the first Starlink in May 2019. SpaceX unfortunately did not manage to recover the reusable structure’s two halves once they dropped away from the cargo and landed on Earth.
“We had a successful liftoff of Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center. We had a successful separation of that first stage from the second stage. Unfortunately we did not recover that first stage for another launch,” Michael Andrews, supply chain supervisor, explained. “But as you can see, 60 healthy and operational Starlink satellites are on their way to their intended orbits. It’s definitely been an exciting launch today.”
As TechCrunch pointed out, this is SpaceX’s sixth mission and fourth Starlink launch of 2020. It’s unclear how, if at all, the COVID-19 pandemic will affect Elon Musk’s space transportation goals.