A historic Falcon 9 rocket booster that previously launched SpaceX’s first NASA astronauts, launched the company’s twenty-first Starlink satellite cluster on March 11. On Thursday at 3:13 a.m. EST the booster illuminated the predawn sky as it propelled to orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, carrying 60 Starlink satellites. The Falcon 9 first-stage booster, production number B1058-6, sports NASA’s retro ‘worm’ logo and is filled with scorch marks from reentering Earth’s atmosphere multiple times. B1058-6 first launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 30 last year, then it launched the ANASIS-II satellite for South Korea in July 2020. The booster also conducted SpaceX’s 21st resupply mission to ISS for NASA, as well as its first rideshare-dedicated Transporter-1 mission carrying over 100 spacecraft for different organizations, and a previous Starlink mission.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/Dth6zbYtR4— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 11, 2021
The 60 internet-beaming Starlink satellites atop Falcon 9’s second-stage were placed in orbit as the rocket's first-stage returned to terra firma. The six-times-flown booster B1058-6 landed on the ‘Just Read The Instructions’ droneship located in the Atlantic Ocean around 633-kilometers downrange. It marked SpaceX’s 76 landing of an orbital-class rocket and the 56 time a booster has been reused. SpaceX engineers aim to reuse Falcon 9 boosters at least ten times to reduce the cost of spaceflight.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship pic.twitter.com/fI2VvU3kWO— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 11, 2021
Approximately an hour after liftoff, the cluster of 60 flat-panel Starlink satellites were released to low Earth orbit, increasing the constellation size to around 1,265 satellites that will enable the company to increase broadband coverage. Each satellite features a single solar array that will be unfurled, before raising into a higher operational orbit by utilizing onboard krypton-powered ion thrusters. This cluster of satellites was deployed as the company announced it plans to expand service in United Kingdom and started to offer broadband internet service to Germany and New Zealand this week. Customers preorder the service via Starlink.com. Company officials state they aim to expand broadband coverage to ‘most of Earth’ before this year ends. Currently they provide service at a ‘first-come, first-serve’ basis per region. The company is focused on connecting areas around the planet where traditional terrestrial internet connection is unreliable or unavailable. Overall, the Starlink constellation could have over 12,000 satellites to connect the entire globe.
Deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/vltm8NijZC— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 11, 2021
Besides connecting the globe to the world wide web, SpaceX’s Starlink venture will help fund the company’s space program which involves building a Starlink fleet of at least one thousand Starships to colonize Mars. SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that if they achieve to attract a portion of the telecommunications market, Starlink is expected to have $30 billion to $50 billion in revenue annually. This profit could finance SpaceX’s ambitious Starship program, as well as Mars Base Alpha. Long-term, Starlink customers will be supporting SpaceX’s goal to make life multiplanetary.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.