SpaceX wows with a double header of final 2023 rocket launches (photos, video)

The Falcon Heavy carrying the USSF-52 to space launches fropm Florida
The Falcon Heavy carrying the USSF-52 to space launches fropm Florida on Dec. 28 (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX capped off 2023 with not one but two rocket launches, bringing its total number of blast-offs to 98 in 2023. 

The first SpaceX mission to take to the skies Thursday (Dec. 28) was a Falcon Heavy rocket carrying the U.S. military's secretive X-37B space plane, designed mission USSF-52. That blasted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:07 p.m. EST (0107 GMT on Dec. 29). This marked the second Falcon Heavy flight of 2023. 

Second up on the launch docket for Thursday, hours later, was a Falcon 9 liftoff carrying 23 SpaceX Starlink units to low Earth orbit from nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This launch took place at 11:01 p.m. EST (0401 GMT on Dec. 29). This was SpaceX's 98th and final launch of 2023, and the 96th flight for a Falcon 9 rocket this year. 

Related: SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launches mysterious X-37B space plane for US Space Force after delays

SpaceX took to X, formerly Twitter, to celebrate the successful launch of the USSF-52 mission from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), with a series of stunning images. 

The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility shortly after touching down on Nov. 12, 2022. (Image credit: U.S. Space Force/Staff Sgt. Adam Shanks)

SpaceX's 97th launch overall for this year marked the seventh flight for X-37B, but the first time the space plane hitched a lift atop a Falcon Heavy rocket. The X-37B/Falcon Heavy launch had been scrubbed several times previously due to bad weather and an issue with ground equipment.

A Falcon 9 rocket waits of the launchpad in Florida to become the 98th and final SpaceX launch of 2023 on Dec. 28 (Image credit: SpaceX)

The launch of 23 Starlink broadband satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida that capped off 2023 was also the 96th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket during this year.

SpaceX also posted images of this launch to its X feed. 

SpaceX's next launch is targeted for Jan. 2, 2024 and will see a further 21 Starlink satellites lift to orbit to join the over 5,500 internet supplying units currently orbiting Earth.

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Robert Lea
Senior Writer

Robert Lea is a science journalist in the U.K. whose articles have been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, All About Space, Newsweek and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.’s Open University. Follow him on Twitter @sciencef1rst.