Update 12:20 am EST: SpaceX has successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and landed the booster aboard the drone.
SpaceX reached another milestone with its overnight Starlink mission launch. The flight from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station marks the company’s 90th orbital launch in 2023 and its 280th Falcon 9 launch to date. Liftoff of the Starlink 6-33 mission took place at 12:07 pm EST (0507 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 40.
The weather for the mission was ideal at liftoff, but meteorologists kept their eyes on the bottom of the picture as well. Liftoff winds are the only watch item in the forecast, which predicts 95 percent favorable weather.
“Secondary cold air will filter into the area [on Wednesday], bringing clear skies and a strong pressure gradient along the Space Coast,” the missile forecast said. “This will result in strong surface winds through tomorrow evening, which will slowly decrease through the launch window, so lifting winds will be the only concern.”
The forecast also noted that upper-level wind shear is considered “low to moderate” and is highlighted under the Additional Risk Criteria section.
The Starlink 6-33 mission marks the fourth fastest turnaround for SpaceX’s workhorse launch vehicle SLC-40 since its last launch from here, at four days, one hour, six minutes and 40 seconds. The mission will be the 159th space X-orbital launch from this pad.
The first stage used for the launch was booster tail number 1077, which was launched on its ninth flight with this mission. Notable previous launches include Crew-5 and GPS3 Space Vehicle 06.
It landed about eight and a half minutes later, aboard a drone named Just Read the Instructions. The 23 satellites on board bring the total number launched by 2023 to 1,871.
“The company is on track to send more than 80 percent of Earth’s total payload into orbit this year,” said SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who reposted a chart from analyst firm PriceTech. Of the 63 orbital launches worldwide, SpaceX has 26, according to its Q3 report.
Breaking down further, SpaceX has launched significantly more into space than the rest of the world. It launched 519 spacecraft during Q3, compared to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which launched 24 spacecraft.
The figure Musk cited from PriestTech, which he often likes to posit, is that the spacecraft will rise into orbit. That chart shows that in Q3, SpaceX sent 381,278 kg into orbit, followed by CASC with 24,560 kg and Roscosmos with 17,475 kg.
Meanwhile, at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, crews continue to work toward the final launch from the pad in 2023. Falcon Heavy, which supports the USSF-52 mission, returned to a nearby hangar Tuesday evening. In anticipation of integrating the X-37B space plane into the rocket.
The launch of the ninth Falcon Heavy to date continues to be targeted for December 10th.
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