SpaceX launches the third Falcon 9 rocket in less than a month from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
June 13 (UPI) -- SpaceX has expanded the company's historic Starlink constellation by launching 58 more satellites from Florida on Saturday morning.
The payload lifted off on time aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 5:21 a.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is adjacent to Kennedy Space Center.
The launch was the ninth regular Starlink mission, boosting the number of those communications satellites in orbit to 538 -- the most ever for any such constellation.
Starting with the next cluster launch planned for June 22, SpaceX intends to put sunshades on all the Starlink satellites as part of the company's effort to make them less visible from the ground.
Astronomers and other sky gazers have complained that bright reflections from the satellites can ruin observations of the heavens.
The rocket also carried three SkySat satellites for the San Francisco-based space company Planet, formerly branded as Planet Labs, representing the first launch for SpaceX's SmallSat rideshare program.
Planet was founded in 2010 by ex-NASA scientists Will Marshall, Robbie Schingler and Chris Boshuizen, with a goal to use space to enhance life on Earth.
The company said it has over 100 satellites in orbit -- some the size of a shoebox -- collecting almost 100 million square miles of imagery daily.
Elon Musk's SpaceX routinely launches 60 Starlink satellites at a time, but packing the three other satellites into the nose cone means this launch carried two fewer Starlinks.
The SkySat spacecraft are part of Planet's Earth-imaging constellation. The company provides surveillance and images of the planet's surface, updated frequently for emergency service providers, security and other customers.
SpaceX said the Starlink satellites still might be visible at certain hours when they reflect the sun in the week after launch. The company will make the spacecraft tilt their smallest side toward the sun to minimize reflection.
"We are working on implementing this as soon as possible for all satellites since it is a software change," according to a statement published on the company's website.
The company also intends to post information about the location of all Starlink satellites on tracking website Space-Track.org, to help astronomers schedule observations.
The first-stage booster used on Saturday's mission already traveled two times into space, carrying cargo in Dragon capsules to the International Space Station. It was recovered successfully aboard a SpaceX barge, Of Course I Still Love You, in the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo