SpaceX launches record 32nd Falcon 9 so far this year

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SpaceX launched 46 more Starlink internet satellites Friday in the company’s 32nd Falcon 9 flight so far this year, one more than the California rocket builder achieved in all of 2021. The company is on track to launch more than 50 Falcon 9s this year.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California breaks out of heavy fog moments after liftoff Thursday in the company’s 32nd flight so far this year. / Credit: SpaceX webcast

Running 24 hours late because of an out-of-limits sensor reading, the Falcon 9’s first stage engines flashed to life at 1:39 p.m. EDT, smoothly pushing the 229-foot-tall rocket away from a fog-shrouded pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base northwest of Los Angeles.

Quickly climbing above the clouds, the rocket tilted over and shot away on a southerly trajectory. After boosting the rocket out of the lower atmosphere, the first stage, making its fourth flight, fell away and flew itself to touchdown on an offshore landing barge.

The second stage carried out two engine firings to reach the intended polar orbit, releasing all 46 Starlinks in a single batch about an hour after liftoff.

A camera mounted on the Falcon 9 rocket captures a spectacular view of the California coastline dropping away below as the vehicle climbed toward a polar orbit. / Credit: SpaceX webcast

SpaceX has now launched 2,904 Starlinks as it populates a globe-spanning constellation of internet relay stations designed to provide broadband access to customers around the world. About 300 of the satellites launched to date are no longer believed to be working, according to astrophysicist and space statistician Jonathan McDowell.

SpaceX plans to launch thousands of additional Starlinks in multiple orbital planes, minimizing the gaps between satellites to ensure uninterrupted high-speed service. The next Starlink launch is on tap Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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