SpaceX launches 22 Starlink satellites, lands rocket at sea

SpaceX launched 22 of its Starlink internet satellites toward orbit early Friday (July 28) and landed the returning rocket at sea.

A Falcon 9 rocket topped with the Starlink spacecraft lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT). 

The Falcon 9's first stage came back for a landing about 8.5 minutes after liftoff as planned, touching down on the SpaceX droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas. It was the 15th launch and landing for this particular booster, according to a SpaceX mission description.

Related: Starlink satellite train: How to see and track it in the night sky

A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rests on the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas on July 28, 2023, shortly after launching 22 Starlink satellites to orbit.  (Image credit: SpaceX)

That's just one short of SpaceX's reuse record, which is currently held by two different Falcon 9 first stages.

The Falcon 9's upper stage, meanwhile, continued hauling the 22 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. It will deploy them there about 65 minutes after liftoff.

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Friday's Starlink launch was supposed to be part of a record-breaking doubleheader: SpaceX had been planning to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, which is next door to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, on Thursday (July 27) at 11:04 p.m. EDT (0304 GMT on July 28).

The Starlink launch was originally scheduled to occur Thursday at 10:20 p.m. EDT (0220 GMT on Friday), but SpaceX pushed the attempt back a bit, presumably to wait out the weather. 

If the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets had both gone up on time Thursday, the 44-minute gap would have been the shortest ever between two launches from the U.S. East Coast. The current mark is 97 minutes, set way back in 1966.

But SpaceX called off Thursday's planned Heavy liftoff, citing the need to "complete vehicle checkouts." The company is now planning to launch the Falcon Heavy mission on Friday night.

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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.