SpaceX launches 52 Starlink satellites, lands rocket on ship at sea

SpaceX launched 52 more of its Starlink broadband satellites early Wednesday morning (May 31) and landed the returning rocket on a ship at sea.

A Falcon 9 rocket topped with the 52 Starlink spacecraft lifted off from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base on Wednesday at 2:02 a.m. EDT (0602 GMT; 11:02 p.m. on May 30 local California time).

The Falcon 9's first stage returned to Earth as planned about 8 minutes and 45 seconds after launch on Wednesday. It made a vertical touchdown on the SpaceX droneship Of Course I Still Love You, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean.

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

The first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket rests on the deck of a SpaceX droneship not long after launching 52 Starlink satellites toward orbit on May 31, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

It was the 14th launch and landing for this particular booster, according to a SpaceX mission description. Among its previous 13 flights were Crew-1 and Crew-2, astronaut missions that SpaceX flew to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA.

The Falcon 9's upper stage, meanwhile, continued hauling the 52 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. It deployed them all about 17.5 minutes after launch as planned, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter.

SpaceX has now launched more than 4,500 Starlink satellites, more than 4,100 of which are currently active, according to astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.

But many more will go up in the coming weeks and months. The company already has permission to send 12,000 Starlink satellites to orbit, and it has applied for approval to launch another 30,000 on top of that.

Wednesday's Starlink launch came just a few hours after a SpaceX Dragon capsule returned to Earth. That spacecraft, named Freedom, flew the private Ax-2 astronaut mission to the space station for Houston company Axiom Space. Freedom undocked from the ISS on Tuesday morning (May 30) and splashed down off the Florida coast 12 hours later, at 11:04 p.m. EDT (0304 GMT on May 31).

Editor's note: This story was updated at 2:20 a.m. ET on May 31 with news of successful launch and rocket landing, then again at 2:38 a.m. ET with news of satellite deployment.

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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.

  • Isaacbishop
    SpaceX is scheduled to launch 52 of its Starlink broadband satellites into orbit on Wednesday morning, May 31. You can watch the live coverage of the launch.