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SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket aces test-fire for next Starlink launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, seen here ahead of the Iridium-8 launch in 2019, will launch a fifth flight on May 17, 2020 to deliver 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, seen here ahead of the Iridium-8 launch in 2019, will launch a fifth flight on May 17, 2020 to deliver 60 Starlink internet satellites into orbit. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX successfully test-fired a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida today (May 13), setting the stage for a predawn launch of a a new fleet of Starlink internet satellites this weekend. 

The SpaceX (opens in new tab) rocket ignited the nine Merlin engines on its first stage in a brief static fire test atop a pad at Space Launch Complex 40 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Liftoff is set for Sunday at 3:53 a.m. EDT (0753 GMT). 

"Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete — targeting Sunday, May 17 at 3:53 a.m. EDT, 7:53 UTC, for launch of the eighth Starlink mission, which will lift off from SLC-40 in Florida," SpaceX wrote on Twitter today (opens in new tab)

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Static-fire tests are routine preflight checks for SpaceX to ensure its rockets are ready for flight. The Falcon 9 rocket on this flight has flown four times before, launching two Starlink missions for SpaceX, as well as the Iridium-8 mission in 2019 and Telstar 18 VANTAGE satellite in 2018.

For this flight, the Falcon 9 will carry 60 Starlink satellites for SpaceX's growing constellation of broadband internet satellites. The company has launched 422 satellites to date, making it the largest satellite fleet operator today.

The upcoming Starlink mission will be SpaceX's eighth since mid-2019 and bring the number of satellites launched to 482. The Starlink constellation is designed to provide high-speed internet access to users around the world. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that at least 400 Starlink satellites would be required to begin internet service, with 800 satellites needed for moderate coverage. That service will be accessible through a ground-based terminal. SpaceX plans to launch at least 12,000 Starlink satellites for the main constellation. 

Sunday's Falcon 9 launch will mark the second time a SpaceX booster has flown five times (the first was in March of this year). The 229-foot-tall (70 meters) Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket capable of returning its first stage to Earth for a landing on either a ground-based pad or drone ship in the ocean.

SpaceX has been reusing Falcon 9 boosters since 2017. The company has made resuability a cornerstone of its rocket technology in order to lower the cost of spaceflight. 

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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.