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.
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.
Falcon Heavy launches USSF-52 to orbit from Florida pic.twitter.com/DC269EmaLhDecember 29, 2023
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.
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.
Falcon 9 launches 23 @Starlink satellites to orbit from Florida on our 96th, and final, Falcon launch of 2023 pic.twitter.com/6UG302q8jVDecember 29, 2023
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 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.