Watch SpaceX launch and land same Falcon 9 booster for record seventh time

SpaceX successfully launched and landed a Falcon 9 booster for a record seventh time on Tuesday evening.

The mission, which blasted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:13 p.m. ET, deployed the 16th batch of 60 Starlink satellites for the company’s internet-from-space initiative. Here’s the launch:

Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/a9O2MqcsCV

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 25, 2020

The Falcon 9 booster used for Tuesday’s flight previously flew on the Iridium-7 mission in 2019, the Telstar 18 Vantage mission in 2018, and four Starlink missions.

A short time after launch, the reused first-stage booster made a perfect landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship waiting in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Florida.

Falcon 9’s first stage lands on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship! pic.twitter.com/RZGbgzDBwf

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 25, 2020

Fifteen minutes after launch, the 60 Starlink satellites deployed. Heading into orbit as a batch, the satellites will gradually spread out over the coming days and weeks. There are now almost 1,000 Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit for the space-based internet service. Beta testing is already underway, though thousands more satellites still need to be deployed if SpaceX is to achieve its promise of offering a truly global broadband service from space.

Deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/Ddg9EPn5gP

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 25, 2020

The two halves of the rocket fairing (or nose cone) also returned to Earth, with the net-equipped Ms. Chief ship in place to catch one half, and the GO Searcher recovery vessel, which doesn’t have a net, waiting to scoop the other half out of the water. This was the third outing for one of the fairing halves, and the second for the other. We’re still waiting for confirmation of whether Ms. Chief managed to catch the fairing, though it can still be retrieved from the water and used again if it missed the net on its descent.

Tuesday’s mission is yet more evidence of SpaceX’s ability to develop a reusable rocket system for more cost-effective space missions. Recovery of Falcon 9 first-stage boosters, fairing halves, and capsules (for cargo or crewed missions to the International Space Station) is now regularly achieved during its missions. SpaceX engineers are currently exploring ways to recover the Falcon 9 rocket’s second-stage booster, though this is an altogether more challenging procedure as it needs to be brought down after achieving orbital velocity and from a greater altitude.

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