SpaceX launched another 52 of its Starlink internet satellites to orbit Saturday evening (Sept. 24) and also aced a rocket landing at sea.
Just under nine minutes later, the Falcon 9's first stage came back to Earth for a pinpoint touchdown on the SpaceX "droneship" A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. It was the fourth liftoff and landing for this particular booster, according to a SpaceX mission description.
The Falcon 9's upper stage deployed the 52 Starlinks 15.5 minutes after liftoff as planned, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter.
Saturday's launch continues the buildout of SpaceX's Starlink megaconstellation, which provides internet service for people around the world. The company has now lofted nearly 3,400 Starlink satellites and plans to launch thousands more.
Starting next year, SpaceX will begin launching Starlink Version 2 satellites, which will be much bigger and more capable than the current iteration. V2 spacecraft will be able to beam connectivity directly to smartphones, and will do so for T-Mobile customers via a project called "Coverage Above and Beyond," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced last month.
SpaceX plans to launch Starlink V2 batches aboard its huge, next-generation Starship vehicle, which will also take cargo and people to the moon and Mars, if all goes according to plan. Starship's first orbital test flight is "highly likely" to occur in November, Musk said recently.
Saturday's launch was SpaceX's 43rd orbital mission of 2022, adding to the company's single-year liftoff record. SpaceX's previous high for launches in a year was 31, achieved in 2021.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 7:55 p.m. EDT on Sept. 24 with news of successful launch, rocket landing and satellite deploy.
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 on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.