On Monday (Jan. 6), SpaceX became the company operating the most satellites with the launch of its third batch of Starlink satellites. A Falcon 9 rocket delivered the payload of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, bringing the total number of satellites in the internet constellation up to 180.
The successful launch was the first under the governance of the newly established U.S. Space Force. The Falcon 9 first stage that carried the satellites into orbit had been used three times before, and this is the second Falcon 9 booster to fly four times.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, at 9:19 p.m. EST on Jan. 6 (0219 GMT on Jan. 7).
The 60 new Starlink satellites, marking the third batch deployed, made SpaceX the operator of the largest satellite fleet in space.
The Falcon 9 rocket soars into space with 60 of the company's Starlink internet satellites in this long-exposure photo of the launch.
The Falcon 9 rocket launch arches far into the atmosphere on its way to space as seen from Cocoa Beach, Florida. The Starlink satellites will provide internet coverage to Earth, expanding coverage to areas that have poor or no coverage now.
While in orbit, the Falcon 9 deploys its grid fins to help guide it back to Earth safely (left). On the right the Falcon 9 second stage fires to power the rocket back into Earth's atmosphere.
As the Falcon 9 heads back to Earth the protective protective nosecone is deployed. The Starlink constellation of broadband satellites currently stands at 180 with a goal of 400 for minimal coverage and 800 for moderate coverage.
The Falcon 9 first stage made a successful trip to space and return, landing gently on "Of Course I Still Love You," SpaceX's drone landing ship.
The 60 Starlink satellites, stacked on the Falcon 9 second stage, shimmer against the darkness of space. Astronomers have complained about how brightly they shine in orbit.
The Starlink satellites ride on the Falcon 9 second stage, stacked together awaiting deployment. The rocket and its payload coast in Earth's orbit.
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Christine Lunsford joined the Space.com team in 2010 as a freelance producer and later became a contributing writer, covering astrophotography images, astronomy photos and amazing space galleries and more. During her more than 10 years with Space.com, oversaw the site's monthly skywatching updates and produced overnight features and stories on the latest space discoveries. She enjoys learning about subjects of all kinds.