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SpaceX launches 21st Starlink communications satellite cluster

ORLANDO, Fla., March 11 (UPI) -- SpaceX successfully launched 60 Starlink satellites early Thursday from Florida on a first-stage booster rocket that previously carried two astronauts into space.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket occurred as scheduled at 3:13 a.m. EST from Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

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The launch was planned as SpaceX seeks permission from the Federal Communications Commission to beam Starlink service to terminals on trucks, boats and aircraft -- in addition to the current home and office setups.

SpaceX has little room for delays on Starlink launches because the company targets a specific orbital location for each mission. If a mechanical or weather issue had prompted a delay, another attempt was planned for Friday at 2:51 a.m. EST.

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On Thursday morning, the weather was forecast as nearly ideal for launch, with only a small risk of winds or thick clouds, according to the U.S. Space Force.

Jessie Anderson, a lead manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, said the weather was 90% favorable minutes before SpaceX's 7th launch of the year.

The first-stage booster on the rocket previously carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in May on the historic return of crewed launches to the space station from U.S. soil after a nine-year lapse.

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SpaceX landed the booster on the uncrewed autonomous spaceport drone ship Just Read The Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean after launch, making it the company's 76th successful recovery of an orbital class rocket.

The 60 Starlink satellites were also successfully deployed into low-Earth orbit to reach their operational orbit over the next several days to weeks.

Ian McCullough, a sourcing manager at SpaceX, said they will attempt to also attempt to recover both halves of the rocket's fairings, which houses the satellites until they are launched into space, upon recovery ships Go Searcher and Go Navigator.

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The launch occurred as SpaceX continues its beta service expansion to Germany and New Zealand this week, Anderson said.

Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

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

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