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SpaceX launch grows Starlink constellation to more than 300 satellites

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Monday morning into a partly cloudy sky, carrying the company's fifth batch of 60 Starlink satellites. Photo courtesy of SpaceX
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Monday morning into a partly cloudy sky, carrying the company's fifth batch of 60 Starlink satellites. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- SpaceX launched its fifth batch of Starlink satellites from Florida at 10:05 a.m. EST Monday, growing the Starlink constellation in orbit to more than 300.

The Falcon 9 rocket launched 60 satellites into a cloudy sky from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

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SpaceX missed recovering the first-stage booster from the launch aboard a ship. "It did make a soft landing in the water... so it does look like it may be in one piece," SpaceX engineer Jessie Anderson said.

Each of Starlink's large dinner table-size satellites weighs over 500 pounds -- the largest single satellite constellation in orbit.

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The space firm previously launched 60 Starlink satellites at a time in May, November and on Jan. 6 and Jan. 29, with two test satellites launched before that.

If all continues on track for the constellation, 100 or more such Starlink launches could occur in the future. SpaceX intends ultimately to launch thousands of satellites to beam broadband around the globe.

Starlink satellites orbit at a height of about 340 miles above the Earth. By comparison, the Kármán line that defines space is 62 miles high, and the International Space Station is more than 250 miles high.

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The company said the booster in Monday's launch was used three times previously, for cargo missions to the International Space Station in May 2019 and July 2019, and for the JCSAT-18/Kacific1 satellite launch in December 2019.

If SpaceX had successfully landed the booster, it would have marked the 50th such landing since the company began recovering boosters in 2015. The company also had planned attempts to catch the rocket nose cone halves as they fell back to the Atlantic Ocean on Monday. More than an hour after launch, however, no updates about that effort had been provided.

The launch took place as SpaceX said its Crew Dragon capsule that will carry astronauts this year arrived in Florida and completed some of its final tests.

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