SpaceX has launched 60 new Starlink internet satellites into orbit on February 15, 2021. However, there was a setback as it missed rocket landing, failing to stick its landing on a floating platform at sea.
The two-stage Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40. Less than ten minutes after the launch, the rocket's first stage returned to Earth to attempt its sixth landing on SpaceX's drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean," but missed its target.
"It does look like we did not land our booster on Of Course I Still Love You tonight," SpaceX manufacturing engineer Jessica Anderson said during live launch commentary. "It is unfortunate that we did not recover this booster but our second stage is still on a nominal trajectory."
SpaceX has shown preference for recovering its Falcon 9 rocket stages for reuse. However, the company has also reiterated severally that the primary mission remains delivering a flight's payload to orbit.
The latest mission was powered by one of SpaceX's frequent fliers. Dubbed B1059, the booster had previously ferried two different SpaceX Dragon cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station in December 2019 and March 2020, a Starlink mission last June, an Earth-observing satellite for Argentina, and a spy satellite for the U.S government as part of the NROL-108 mission in December.
The latest launch was the first of two planned Starlink liftoffs within a week, with another 60 satellites scheduled for February 17 on a different Falcon 9. The recent shuffling around of Starlink's mission due to bad weather and hardware-related issues has been attributed to the quick succession of satellite launch.
Dubbed Starlink 19, the mission was postponed following SpaceX's 18th Starlink mission blasted off on February 4, both leapfrogging Starlink 17, which was originally slated to launch on February 1.
During the initial mission planning, SpaceX aimed to launch two Starlink missions just hours apart — a first for the space coast since 1966 when a Gemini rocket was followed by an Atlas Agena just 99 minutes later. While the feat was not achieved, there was an unprecedented move for the era of commercial spaceflight, with the Eastern Range (the agency overseeing launches along the East Coast) approving two missions to launch in quick succession.
This feat might eventually come into fruition at a later date, considering the increasing number of launch providers and their growing activities. 2020 had more than 31 launches, with 2021 predicted to be even busier as the 45th Space Wing prepares for at least 40 missions.
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