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SpaceX launches Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral on 80th Falcon 9 mission

Emre Kelly, Florida Today
SpaceX launches Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral on 80th Falcon 9 mission

Fog and low-level clouds lingering over Cape Canaveral cleared just in time on Monday, making way for a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to vault a batch of 60 satellites to low-Earth orbit.

The 10:05 a.m. liftoff from Launch Complex 40 was the 80th mission for Falcon 9, a 230-foot-tall rocket family that's launched a varying array of payloads – and, with Monday's launch, five batches of Starlink internet satellites.

The rocket's first stage, which previously flew three missions – one in 2017 and two in 2019 – was lost when it failed to correctly approach the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX's webcast of the mission showed an empty ship with puffs of smoke rising to the right, followed by the splash of water droplets on the camera.

"The first stage made its way back to Earth, but unfortunately we did not land the first stage on our drone ship," Jessica Anderson, a lead manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, said during the webcast. "But it did make a soft landing on the water right next to the drone ship, so it does look like it might be in one piece. That is our secondary mission, so we'll try again next time. Our primary mission is complete."

Had it been successful, it would have marked the company's 50th landing of a Falcon 9 booster. The reusability effort is part of SpaceX's plan to make rocketry more like aviation – instead of "throwing away" rockets into the ocean after liftoff, CEO Elon Musk wants to reuse them 10 times or more. It also helps lower costs.

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Fifteen minutes after liftoff, the batch of flat-packed Starlink satellites was pushed away from the rocket's upper stage using a tension rod mechanism. The successful deployment now means SpaceX has 300 of its internet-beaming satellites in low-Earth orbit.

The company hopes to start delivering internet service sometime later this year. In the long run, the goal is to have thousands of Starlink satellites circling the Earth, beaming internet connectivity to customers on the ground who don't have sufficient access.

The Space Coast's next launch, meanwhile, is slated to be yet another Falcon 9. The rocket will take an uncrewed Cargo Dragon capsule to the International Space Station no earlier than 1:45 a.m. March 2, which marks an instantaneous window.

Contact Emre Kelly at aekelly@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly. Support his space journalism by subscribing at floridatoday.com/specialoffer/.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: SpaceX Starlink mission launch: What to know about latest event