SpaceX launches 51 Starlink satellites, lands rocket on ship at sea

SpaceX launched another big batch of its Starlink internet satellites toward orbit and landed the returning rocket on a ship at sea today (May 10).

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 51 Starlink spacecraft lifted off from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base on schedule today at 4:09 p.m. ET (2009 GMT; 1:09 p.m. local California time).

The Falcon 9's first stage came back to Earth about 8.5 minutes after liftoff as planned. It touched down on SpaceX's Of Course I Still Love You droneship, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

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

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 51 of the company's Starlink internet satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on May 10, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

It was the third launch and landing for this particular booster, according to a SpaceX mission description.

The Falcon 9's upper stage, meanwhile, continued making its way to low Earth orbit, where it deployed the 51 Starlink satellites as planned about 17.5 minutes after liftoff.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rests on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You after launching and landing on May 10, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has already launched more than 4,300 satellites for Starlink, its broadband megaconstellation. But many more are expected to go up: The company has permission to deploy 12,000 Starlink spacecraft and has applied for approval to loft 30,000 more on top of that.

Today's launch was the 28th Falcon 9 flight of the year already. SpaceX has also launched two missions with its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket in 2023, and the company sent a fully stacked Starship — its huge, next-generation spaceflight system — skyward for the first time on April 20.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. EDT on May 10 with news of successful launch and rocket landing.

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

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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.