SpaceX sent a space tug aloft along with another big batch of its Starlink internet satellites on Sunday night (Sept. 4) — and landed a rocket on a ship at sea as well.
Also on board with Starlink Group 4-20 was Sherpa-LTC2, a space tug provided by Seattle-based company Spaceflight. The tug is carrying a payload for Boeing's Varuna Technology Demonstration Mission (Varuna-TDM), which "aims to test V-band communications for a proposed constellation of 147 non-geostationary broadband satellites," according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab).
The first Sherpa-LTC orbital transfer vehicle was removed from a January 2022 SpaceX launch opportunity due to a propellant leak, SpaceNews added.(opens in new tab)
Sunday's flight plan called for SpaceX to bring the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back to Earth for a soft touchdown on the droneship Just Read the Instructions, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The landing — the seventh for this particular booster — occurred as planned, about 8.5 minutes after launch.
Sherpa-LTC2 deployed from the Falcon 9's upper stage about 49 minutes after liftoff, and the Starlinks followed suit 23 minutes after that, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter (opens in new tab).
SpaceX has already sent more than 3,000 Starlink satellites into orbit, in an effort to create a huge constellation for broadband service targeted for remote areas. SpaceX has launched more than 25 Starlink-centric missions in 2022 already.
Sunday's launch was SpaceX's 40th of the year and continued to add to the Starlink megaconstellation. SpaceX has approval to launch 12,000 Starlink satellites and has asked an international regulator to give the thumbs-up to an additional 30,000.
In late August, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced plans to beam connectivity directly to smartphones using Starlink, in conjunction with T-Mobile. Another deal announced Tuesday (Aug. 30) will see Starlink service beamed to Royal Caribbean cruise ships.