SpaceX launched 51 of its Starlink internet satellites to orbit on Friday (Feb. 17), acing the first of two orbital missions the company has planned for the day.
The rocket's first stage came back to Earth safely, landing about 8 minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff on the SpaceX droneship Of Course I Still Love You, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. It was the ninth launch and landing for this particular booster, SpaceX said in a mission description.
The Falcon 9's upper stage, meanwhile, continued hauling the Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit, deploying all 51 of them as planned 15.5 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter.
The new arrivals have a lot of company up there. SpaceX has now launched nearly 4,000 Starlink satellites, which provide internet service to people around the world. And the megaconstellation will continue to grow for the foreseeable future: SpaceX has permission to loft 12,000 Starlink craft and has applied for approval to deploy 30,000 more satellites on top of that.
Friday's Starlink launch was SpaceX's 11th orbital mission of the year already. And the 12th will occur just hours from now, if all goes according to plan: A Falcon 9 is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Friday at 10:59 p.m. EST (0359 GMT on Feb. 18), carrying Inmarsat's I-6 F2 communications satellite to orbit.
That roughly nine-hour gap between liftoffs won't set a SpaceX record, however; on Oct. 5, 2022, Elon Musk's company launched the Crew-5 astronaut mission for NASA and a Starlink batch about seven hours apart.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.