A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 40 broadband satellites into British company OneWeb’s orbit on Thursday (March 9) and returned to Earth to mark its descent.
The two-stage Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Force Station Cape Canaveral in Florida Thursday at 2:13 p.m. EDT (1913 GMT).
The rocket’s first stage returned to Earth on schedule, landing on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral about 7 minutes and 50 seconds after launch.
Related: 8 ways SpaceX has transformed spaceflight
This was the thirteenth launch and landing of this booster rocket, according to A SpaceX mission description (Opens in a new tab). Among those earlier flights were SpaceX’s two private astronaut missions, Inspiration4 and Ax-1, which launched in September 2021 and April 2022, respectively.
Meanwhile, the rocket’s upper stage continued to make its way into low Earth orbit (LEO). The OneWeb satellites were deployed in small batches starting about 59 minutes after liftoff. All 40 deployed successfully by T+96 min.
OneWeb is building a constellation of more than 600 LEO satellites, which will provide Internet service to customers around the world.
Thursday’s mission, known as OneWeb 17, brings the number of satellites in this network to 582, Company representatives said in the description of the task (Opens in a new tab). They added that one additional launch of another 40 satellites would finish building the constellation.
Most of OneWeb’s satellites have launched on Russian-made Soyuz rockets operated by the French company Arianespace. But last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine ended that arrangement, and OneWeb had to find other flights into orbit.
The company has done so on short notice, striking deals with SpaceX and NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation. OneWeb has now flown three times with SpaceX (on Falcon 9 rockets) and once with NSIL (on an Indian GSLV Mark III).
The SpaceX launch contract is interesting, given that Elon Musk’s company is building its massive broadband complex in low Earth orbit. SpaceX’s network, called Starlink, consists of More than 3,700 operating spacecraft And it continues to grow.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:30 PM ET on March 9 with news of the successful launch and rocket landing, and then again at 4 PM ET with news of the satellite deployment.
Mike Wall is the author of “outside (Opens in a new tab)Book (Major Grand Publishing, 2018; illustration by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab) or on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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