SpaceX’s final 14th Starlink mission began at 8:26 a.m. EDT when Falcon 9’s nine first-stage engines ignited with an explosion of flame, pushing the slender rocket away from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center atop 1 , 7 million pounds of thrust.
Making its sixth flight, the first stage propelled the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere, then fell and headed for the landing of an offshore drone. Touchdown marked SpaceX’s 62nd booster recovery success since December 2015, its 42nd at sea.
Within a minute of stage separation, the two halves of the rocket nose cone fairing, both veterans of two previous missions, moved away for parachute descents to capture nets aboard ships of recovery pending. Both were successfully retrieved, although one appeared to pierce his net, possibly hitting his ship’s deck.
The second stage, meanwhile, advanced into orbit and after two shots from its vacuum Merlin engine, the 60 Starlinks were released to fly on their own about an hour after takeoff.
Sunday’s launch marked SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 flight since October 2, when a last-second abortion blocked the launch of a Space Force Global Positioning System navigation satellite. That flight remains on hold while company engineers assess an apparent problem with the engine’s turbopumps.
SpaceX did not provide details on how the engines used on Sunday and those used in a Starlink flight on October 18 might be different from those used for the GPS mission.
Likewise, SpaceX or NASA have not said whether the engine issue poses a threat to the planned launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station on top of a Falcon 9 next month.
Sunday’s launch was the 18th Falcon 9 flight so far this year, the 95th since the rocket launched in 2010, the 98th with three triple-core Falcon Heavy launches. The Falcon 9 suffered two catastrophic failures, one in flight and one during pre-launch testing.