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SpaceX breaks a Falcon 9 rocket re-use record with successful Starlink launch

Darrell Etherington

SpaceX has successfully launched and deployed its sixth batch of 60 Starlink satellites, further growing its constellation for the internet broadband system it plans to launch for customers in the U.S. and Canada starting later this year. This brings SpaceX's total Starlink constellation size to 360 spacecraft, extending the company's lead as the world's largest private satellite operator.

The launch this morning used a Falcon 9 first-stage booster that flew for its fifth time, marking a record for the company when it comes to re-use of this component of its launch system. The launch also included yet another recovery attempt for the booster, but unfortunately the first stage did not complete the landing as planned.

That's not the only way this mission furthered SpaceX's reusable rocketry goals: The fairing, or protective covering that encloses the satellite cargo, has also flown previously -- on a SpaceX Starlink launch from last May. SpaceX also attempted to recover this fairing once it fell away from the cargo and returned to Earth, with an intent to catch both halves using two ships positioned at sea and equipped with nets. That attempt failed, though both faring halves were recovered "quickly" from the ocean where they landed, which could pave the way for their refurbishment and re-use.

SpaceX currently is managing to refurbish its Falcon 9 boosters in roughly eight weeks, and will continue to look to improve that, and eventually achieve even more rapid reusability with its Starship spacecraft, a successor to Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy being developed right now by the company in Boca Chica, Texas.

This is already SpaceX's sixth mission of 2020, and its fourth Starlink launch of the year. Expect more to follow quickly as it ramps toward launch of service, beginning with North America in 2020 and parts of the rest of the world next year.