By most measures, the Saturday morning launch of a previously flown Falcon 9 rocket seemed fairly pedestrian. After all, SpaceX had already launched 24 rockets this year, so adding one more Starlink satellite mission on top was no big deal. This has all become pretty routine.
Moreover, the company had already worked through a hectic week, safely landing the Crew-2 mission for NASA in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday night and turning around and launching the Crew-3 mission less than 48 hours later on Wednesday.
To top it off, the company oversaw a successful docking of the Crew-3 mission and its four astronauts with the International Space Station on Thursday evening.
However, the combination of a rocket launch shortly after sunrise and a relatively rare, thick fog layer right at the surface in Florida combined for something special on Saturday. It made the liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket look otherworldly, as if it were a scene in a science fiction movie.
The 53 satellites launched by the SpaceX booster—which was making its ninth flight—will join a constellation of more than 1,800 satellites now providing Internet service to more than 140,000 customers around the world. The company is now working to cut the production cost of its ground-based terminals and increase their availability once silicon shortages ease. Demand for the service appears to be high.
SpaceX’s previous record for orbital launches in a calendar year was 26, set in 2020. Following Saturday’s Starlink mission, the company has potentially five more launches on tap this year, beginning with NASA’s asteroid deflection mission, DART, next week from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
Then, there are as many as four more Falcon 9 missions scheduled from Florida in December, including another Starlink flight, NASA’s IXPE X-ray astronomy telescope, the Turksat 5B communications satellite, and a cargo supply mission to the International Space Station.
This gives SpaceX a chance to reach 30 orbital flights in 2021.
Source: Ars Technica