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SpaceX launches 52 Starlink satellites, lands rocket at sea

SpaceX launched another big batch of its Starlink internet satellites to orbit and landed a rocket on a ship at sea on Tuesday (Aug. 9).

A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket topped with 52 Starlink spacecraft lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Tuesday at 10:14 p.m. EDT (0214 GMT on Aug. 10).

A little less than nine minutes after launch, the Falcon 9's first stage came back to Earth for a vertical landing on the SpaceX droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. 

The Falcon 9 upper stage, meanwhile, continued powering its way to low Earth orbit, eventually deploying the Starlink satellites as planned about 15 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter (opens in new tab)

Related: SpaceX's Starlink megaconstellation launches in photos

The first stage of a SpaceX rocket sits on the deck of a drone ship shortly after launching 52 Starlink internet satellites on Aug. 9, 2022.

The first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sits on the deck of a drone ship shortly after launching 52 Starlink internet satellites on Aug. 9, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Starlink is SpaceX's internet megaconstellation, which beams broadband service to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Elon Musk's company has now launched more than 3,000 Starlink satellites (opens in new tab) to orbit, but many more will likely go up; SpaceX has permission to loft 12,000 of the craft and has applied for approval to launch 30,000 more on top of that.

Tonight's launch was the company's 21st Starlink mission of 2022 and its 35th orbital flight of the year overall, adding to a SpaceX record. The company's previous mark for most orbital missions in a year was 31, set in 2021.

Rocket reuse is a big priority for SpaceX, which views it as a breakthrough that will help make Mars colonization feasible. 

The Falcon 9 first stage that flew on Tuesday already had two spaceflights under its belt, according to a SpaceX mission description (opens in new tab). That's impressive, but it's far from the SpaceX record; three different Falcon 9 boosters have launched 13 orbital missions to date.

The Starlink launch was part of a very active day for SpaceX. Also today, the company conducted "static fire" engine tests at its South Texas facility with Booster 7 and Ship 24, prototypes of its Starship deep-space transportation system.

SpaceX is preparing Booster 7 and Ship 24 for the Starship program's first-ever orbital test flight, which the company aims to launch in the coming months.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. EDT on Aug. 9 to include the webcast information and to correct the expected time of satellite deployment (to roughly 15 minutes after liftoff, rather than an hour). It was updated again at 10:43 p.m. EDT with news of the successful launch and landing and the Booster 7 and Ship 24 static fire tests.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) 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.