SpaceX launches 23 Starlink satellites, aces 300th rocket landing (photos)

SpaceX launches 23 Starlink satellites, aces 300th rocket landing (photos)

SpaceX notched yet another rocket-reuse milestone this evening (April 23).

A Falcon 9 rocket topped with 23 of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station today at 6:17 p.m. EDT (2217 GMT).

The Falcon 9’s first stage came back to Earth for a vertical landing about 8.5 minutes after launch, touching down on the SpaceX droneship Just Read the Instructions, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

It was the ninth launch and landing for this particular booster, according to a SpaceX mission description. And, more excitingly, it was the 300th touchdown overall for a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy first stage, the company said via X shortly after touchdown.

Related: Starlink satellite train: How to see and track it in the night sky

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 23 Starlink satellites from Florida on April 23, 2024.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches 23 Starlink satellites from Florida on April 23, 2024. (Image credit: SpaceX via X)

SpaceX first landed an orbital rocket in December 2015, when a Falcon 9 first stage aced its touchdown at Cape Canaveral. Reuse is now routine for the company; one of its Falcon 9 boosters has 20 launches under its belt, for example.

Getting back to today’s flight: The Falcon 9’s upper stage continued carrying the 23 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO), deploying them about 65 minutes after liftoff as planned.

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A black and white spacex falcon 9 rocket first stage sits on the deck of a ship at sea.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sits on the deck of a droneship at sea shortly after launching 23 Starlink satellites from Florida on April 23, 2024. The booster’s touchdown was the 300th landing overall for a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy first stage,  (Image credit: SpaceX)

This evening’s launch was the 41st of the year for SpaceX, and the 28th of 2024 dedicated to building out the huge and ever-growing Starlink megaconstellation. There are nearly 5,800 operational Starlink satellites in LEO at the moment, according to astrophysicist and satellite tracker Jonathan McDowell.

The Starlink launch ended up being the first half of a spaceflight doubleheader: A Rocket Lab Electron vehicle launched two satellites, including a NASA solar-sailing technology demonstrator, from New Zealand today at 6:33 p.m. EDT (2233 GMT).

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:30 p.m. ET on April 23 with news of successful launch and first-stage landing.

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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, “Out There,” was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

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