SpaceX launched 52 more of its Starlink broadband satellites early Wednesday (May 31) and landed the return rocket on a ship at sea.
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 52 Starlink spacecraft lifted off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 2:02 a.m. EDT (0602 GMT; 11:02 p.m. local California time May 30) on Wednesday.
The Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth on schedule about 8 minutes and 45 seconds after launch on Wednesday. It made a vertical touchdown on the SpaceX droneship of course I Still Love You stationed in the Pacific Ocean.
Related: Starlink satellite train: How to see it in the night sky
This is the 14th launch and landing for this particular booster, per step SpaceX mission description. Among its previous 13 flights, including Crew-1 and Crew-2, SpaceX flew to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA.
The Falcon 9’s upper stage, meanwhile, towed 52 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit. It sent everyone off about 17.5 minutes after its scheduled launch. SpaceX confirmed via Twitter.
SpaceX has now launched more than 4,500 Starlink satellites, of which more than 4,100 are currently active. According to Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist and satellite observer.
But many more will be added in the coming weeks and months. The company has already received approval to send 12,000 Starlink satellites into orbit, and has applied for approval to launch 30,000 more.
Wednesday’s Starlink launch came hours after the SpaceX Dragon capsule returned to Earth. The spacecraft, named Freedom, sent the private Ax-2 space shuttle to the space station for the Houston company Axiom Space. Liberty lifted off from the ISS on Tuesday morning (May 30) and touched down off the Florida coast 12 hours later, at 11:04 pm EDT (0304 GMT on May 31).
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 31 at 2:20 a.m. ET with news of the successful launch and rocket landing, then again at 2:38 a.m. ET with news of the satellite deployment.