ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 3 (UPI) -- SpaceX launched 60 more of its Starlink satellites Thursday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Florida -- the 12th mission for the company's fledgling broadband Internet service.
Liftoff occurred on time at 8:46 a.m. EDT under clear skies from Complex 39A at the space center.
A launch crew of about 200 people was kept distanced, masked and as separate as possible due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Space Force Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing that oversees launches in Florida, said in a press conference last week.
Launch personnel handled several big missions during the pandemic under such restrictions, he said.
The launch will bring the total number of Starlink spacecraft in orbit to more than 600 as SpaceX prepares to roll out broader testing of the network.
The last several Starlink launches have carried small satellites for so-called rideshare customers, meaning SpaceX didn't launch as many Starlink spacecraft as usual. But Thursday's launch had the full complement of 60.
The Starlink constellation is by far the largest such group of satellites in orbit. Each of Starlink's large dinner table-size satellites weighs over 500 pounds.
The spacecraft has a solar panel that unfolds after it reaches orbit. They also are equipped with sunshades designed to minimize reflections from the sun at certain hours of the day that can be visible from the ground.
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.
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.