ST. GEORGE — The launch that took place Saturday morning marked the 100th such event for SpaceX, as 60 more Starlink satellites were sent into orbit on a Falcon 9, the first orbital class rocket capable of reflight.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m. MDT, the satellites were launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. An hour later, the Starlink fleet deployed into low-Earth orbit, joining hundreds of others launched in a series of missions by the company, SpaceX said in a statement.
Saturday’s mission marked the 100th successful flight of a Falcon rocket since the first Falcon 1 flew to orbit in 2008.
A video showing a compilation of launches commemorating the event, courtesy of SpaceX, can be viewed at the top of this report.
Once the satellites are safely launched into space, the rocket’s job is far from over. In fact, the most difficult task is yet to come. The Falcon’s first-stage rocket must reenter Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic velocity – roughly 11,400 mph – and then make a precision landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
At 14 stories tall and traveling nearly a mile per second, stabilizing the Falcon 9’s first stage booster for landing is like “trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a hurricane,” SpaceX said in the statement.
One unique aspect of the launches is that SpaceX has designed fully reusable rockets that can be turned around quickly, which is particularly important in an industry where most rockets are inoperable after a single launch. That is similar to “throwing away an airplane after a one-way trip from Los Angeles to New York,” the company said.
The 100th flight involved a first stage rocket booster that has successfully landed 63 times and reflown the boosters 45 times.
Over the last 10 years, the Falcon 9 has become the most flown rocket in the U.S., far outnumbering the expendable rockets that have been launching into space for decades.
Another shift has to do with the design of the satellites themselves, as all Starlink satellites are designed to quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their life cycle.
That may be of particular importance, considering there are nearly 3,000 dead satellites orbiting aimlessly that only add to the more than 21,000 objects currently being tracked and cataloged by NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. Saturday’s launch makes a total of 895 Starlink satellites in orbit.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.