SpaceX rocket launch with Starlink fleet thrills stargazers along US East Coast

rocket launching during sunset with blue clouds in behind launch pad
A SpaceX Starlink launch on Sept. 26, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The latest SpaceX launch created a striking view along the U.S. East Coast.

Falcon 9 rocket launched 52 Starlink spacecraft from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Saturday at 7:32 p.m. EDT (2332 GMT). Due to clear conditions across the coastline, it was visible at least as far north as Long Island.

Viewers close by the launchpad witnessed Falcon 9's first stage falling back to Earth for a soft landing atop the SpaceX "droneship" A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. 

SpaceX is working on expanding its Starlink megaconstellation, which is now signing up customers in remote places like Antarctica. The company has already sent nearly 3,400 Starlinks into space and has a plan to bring thousands more aloft.

Related: This NASA camera melted during a SpaceX rocket launch, but the photos survived!

A SpaceX Starlink launch on Sept. 26, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The Falcon 9's upper stage deployed the 52 Starlinks as planned, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter (opens in new tab). Saturday's launch was SpaceX's 43rd orbital mission this year, adding another notch to the company's annual liftoff record. (Its previous high of 31 was set in 2021.) 

As SpaceX shoots for 100 launches in 2023, the company plans to bring up Starlink Version 2 (V2) satellites that officials say will be more capable than today's sets. For example, V2 satellites will interface directly with smartphones, including with T-Mobile customers via a project called "Coverage Above and Beyond," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced last month.

The clutches of V2 satellites will go into space on board the giant, next-generation Starship vehicle that will be tasked with deep space, moon and Mars missions if the company's plans come to fruition. Starship's first orbital test flight is "highly likely" to occur in November, Musk said recently.

Hundreds of miles away, the Saturday sunset launch generated spectacular photography from professionals and amateurs alike, who shared their images on social media.

A vertical view of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, laden with Starlinks, leaving the launch pad on Sept. 24, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)
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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace