SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket into space late Monday with a payload of 51 satellites on board. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launched a stack of Starlink satellites into space Monday night, the first such launch since May.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off through a cloud of fog on schedule at 8:55 p.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex 4E at the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, carrying 51 Starlink satellites into space, which were deployed about 30 minutes later.
SpaceX confirmed the communication satellites had been deployed via Twitter as they began their journey away from one another toward their operational orbit.
The booster was also retrieved upon its autonomous drone ship "I Still Love You" in the Pacific Ocean after it detached from stage one of the rocket, which carried the satellites into space.
It was the 10th flight for the booster and 90th overall retrieval, SpaceX said.
Though visibility on the ground was weak, weather was 100% favorable for the launch, Youmei Zhou, a propulsion engineer with SpaceX, said during the event broadcast.
It was the first Starlink launch since May, and the first West Coast Starlink mission as well as SpaceX's first for the year from the Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Zhou said this 16th Starlink launch of the year represents "a huge leap forward" as the satellites being carried into space will be testing fully operational optical inter satellite links, also known as space lasers, to communicate with one another instead of needing to use radio frequencies to be relayed between one another via ground operations.
"Fewer pings to ground stations means Starlink will be able to both expand and improve service especially in very remote areas," she said. "All future Starlink satellites will feature optical space lasers."
The launch of the 229-foot rocket was carried out at the California site as the satellites are to be placed in polar orbit, which Zhou said will provide them with "near global coverage."
Including Monday's launch, SpaceX has conducted 32 in its mission to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet worldwide. Its most recent previous launch was in late may when it deployed 60 Starlink satellites into orbit.
More than a half million people have either put in an order or a deposit for the Internet service with its beta service available in numerous countries, SpaceX said.