SpaceX rocket launches on record-setting 15th mission, lands on ship at sea (video)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched for an unprecedented 15th time on Saturday (Dec. 17), extending the company's reusability record.

A Falcon 9 topped with 54 of SpaceX's Starlink internet satellites lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday at 4:32 p.m. ET (2132 GMT). 

The rocket's first stage came back to Earth just under nine minutes later, landing on a SpaceX robotic droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.

"Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship, completing the 15th launch and landing of this booster!" SpaceX tweeted just after the touchdown.

Related: SpaceX's Starlink satellite megaconstellation launches in photos

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches on its record-breaking 15th mission on Dec. 17, 2022, carrying 54 Starlink satellites to orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches on its record-breaking 15th mission on Dec. 17, 2022, carrying 54 of the company's Starlink internet satellites to orbit. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The rocket's upper stage continued hauling the 54 Starlink craft to low Earth orbit, deploying them all about 15.5 minutes after launch as planned, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter.

Starlink is SpaceX's huge and ever-growing constellation of broadband satellites, which beam internet service to people around the world. 

The company has already launched more than 3,500 Starlink spacecraft to date and intends to loft many more. SpaceX applied for permission from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deploy nearly 30,000 of its next-generation Starlink 2.0 satellites, which the company aims to loft primarily using its Starship deep-space transportation system. The FAA recently granted approval for 7,500 of those spacecraft but is reserving judgment on the rest.

Saturday's launch was the third in two days for SpaceX. On Friday (Dec. 16), a Falcon 9 launched the SWOT water-watching satellite for NASA from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base, and another lofted two satellites for European telecom company SES from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:05 p.m. EST on Dec. 17 with news of the successful launch and satellite deployment.

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.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.