SpaceX, the privately-owned aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, had a successful St. Patrick's Day doubleheader, launching two separate missions into orbit. The first mission was the deployment of 52 Starlink internet satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO) from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The second mission, launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, saw a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the SES-18 and SES-19 telecommunications satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Both missions went according to plan, with the Starlink satellites successfully deployed in LEO and the Falcon 9 rocket delivering SES-18 and SES-19 to geosynchronous transfer orbit. In addition, both Falcon 9 first stages were able to return to Earth safely, landing on SpaceX droneships less than nine minutes after liftoff.
This was the eighth liftoff and touchdown for the Starlink-launching Falcon 9 rocket and the sixth for the rocket that launched SES-18 and SES-19, according to SpaceX. With the launch of the 52 Starlink satellites, the number of spacecraft in SpaceX's broadband constellation has surpassed 3,700. This constellation will continue to grow, as SpaceX has approval to deploy 12,000 Starlink satellites in LEO and has applied for permission to launch an additional 30,000 on top of that.
The SES-18 and SES-19 satellites are headed for geostationary orbit, which is approximately 22,200 miles (35,700 kilometers) above the Earth's surface. From this position, they will provide digital broadcasting coverage to North America.
These two missions mark the 18th and 19th launches of the year for SpaceX, and according to Musk, the company may launch up to 100 orbital missions in 2023. This is a testament to the company's ability to rapidly and reliably launch missions into orbit, cementing its position as a leader in the space industry.
SpaceX has a long history of innovation in the space industry, from its pioneering work in reusable rockets to its ambitious plans for interplanetary travel. With successful missions like these, it's clear that the company is continuing to push the boundaries of what's possible in space exploration and technology.