SpaceX successfully launches 60 Starlink satellites but booster misses landing ship

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The FINANCIAL — SpaceX has successfully launched and deployed 60 more Starlink satellites, bringing the total number of satellites in the network to nearly 300. Following the successful launch, the rocket’s first stage failed to land on a SpaceX’s drone ship landing platform and instead landed in the water.

The private company founded by billionaire Elon Musk has revolutionized spaceflight in recent years by developing rockets capable of delivering their payload in space then flying back to Earth and landing upright on a target zone, ready to be-reused. It has successfully landed its booster 49 times previously and Monday’s mission would have been the 50th. There are now around 300 Starlink satellites in orbit and that number could one day grow to thousands. Several rivals have the same ambition, including London-based startup OneWeb and giant US retailer Amazon, whose Project Kuiper is far less advanced, Yahoo Finance reported.

The launch took place at 7:07 a.m. PT on Monday, February 17, with the satellites launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Starlink project aims to create a network of satellites that can provide broadband internet access across the globe, even in remote areas that are currently poorly served and lack broadband access — but not everything went according to plan, Digital Trends.

For years, rocket boosters propelled their payloads to space, then separated and fell back to Earth, splashing down into the ocean. To Musk and others who pursued the dream of landing the rockets as a way to make space more accessible, that was like throwing away the airplane after a trip from New York to Los Angeles. Precisely how much money SpaceX saves is hard to say. As a privately held company, it doesn’t release precise dollar amounts. But it sells each Falcon 9 launch for about $62 million, and the overwhelming cost of each launch is in the booster, which houses nine engines. The propellant, Musk has said, is a fraction of the cost, about $200,000 or so, according to The Washington Post.

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Before Monday’s launching, NASA and SpaceX completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket Sunday. This was the final major flight test of the spacecraft before it begins carrying astronauts to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. As part of the test, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff. All major functions were executed, including separation, engine firings, parachute deployment and landing. Crew Dragon splashed down at 10:38 a.m. just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean, NASA stated.

Following the successful launch, the rocket’s first stage failed to land on a SpaceX’s drone ship landing platform “Of Course I Still Love You,” and instead landed in the water nearby. A company spokeswoman said the booster made a “soft landing” in the ocean and “might be in one piece,” but it was not known if it could be recovered or towed back to port. Monday’s miss was the company’s first drone ship recovery failure since June 2016 and its second overall in the past three-and-a-half years, CBS News reported.

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