SpaceX launched its 10th mission of the year early Sunday (Feb. 12), sending 55 of its Starlink internet satellites skyward and landing the returning rocket on a ship at sea.
The Falcon 9's first stage landed as planned 8.5 minutes after liftoff on the SpaceX droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles off the Florida coast.
It was the 12th launch and landing for this particular booster, according to a SpaceX mission description. Among its previous flights were six other Starlink missions and two landmark private astronaut flights — the Ax-1 journey to the International Space Station in April 2022 and the free-flying Inspiration4 jaunt to Earth orbit in September 2021.
The Falcon 9 upper stage, meanwhile, continued hauling the Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit. All 55 of them were deployed about 63 minutes after liftoff as planned, SpaceX confirmed via Twitter on Sunday morning.
Sunday morning's launch continued building out the Starlink megaconstellation, which already consists of more than 3,500 operational satellites. The network is bound to get far bigger still: SpaceX has permission to deploy 12,000 Starlink craft and has applied for approval for an additional 30,000.
Sunday's liftoff was SpaceX's 10th orbital mission of the year and the ninth for the workhorse Falcon 9. The company's other flight in 2023 was made by its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 12:40 a.m. EST on Feb. 12 with news of successful launch and booster landing, then again at 12:35 p.m. EST with news of satellite deployment.
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 Facebook.