SpaceX fired off its latest batch of Starlink satellites Wednesday, boosting the total launched to date to more than one thousand as the California rocket builder continues to expand its globe-spanning network of space-based internet relay stations.
Using a Falcon 9 rocket with a first stage making a record eighth flight, the mission got underway at 8:02 a.m. EST, lifting off from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center atop a brilliant jet of flaming exhaust.
The 229-foot-tall rocket, generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust from nine kerosene-burning Merlin engines, quickly climbed away from Florida's "Space Coast," arcing out over the Atlantic Ocean and fading from view as it powered its way out of the thick lower atmosphere.
Two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the veteran first stage fell away, the single vacuum-rated Merlin engine powering the second stage fired up and the rocket continued its climb to space.
The first stage, meanwhile, flipped around and headed for a landing on a SpaceX droneship stationed several hundred miles off shore, safely touching down just 38 days after wrapping up its seventh flight. It was SpaceX's 72nd successful booster recovery and it's 50th at sea.
The second stage carried out two planned firings to put 60 Starlink satellites into their planned orbit.
SpaceX plans to launch thousands of Starlink satellites in six orbital planes to provide uninterrupted internet connectivity for users anywhere in the world using relatively small antennas and receivers. OneWeb also is building a space-based broadband service while Amazon and other companies are developing similar systems.
Wednesday's flight marked SpaceX's 17th Starlink mission, pushing the total number of satellites launched to date to 1,015.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who maintains an extensive database of launches and spacecraft, listed 874 presumably active Starlinks going into Wednesday's flight, along with 71 that are believed to be out of service. SpaceX does not provide such details about the Starlink constellation.