SpaceXs Starlink internet megakonstellation keeps growing.
A two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket topped by 49 Starlink satellites lifted from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today (January 18) at 21.02 EST (0203 GMT on 19 January).
About nine minutes later, the first stage of the rocket came down to Earth for a precise touchdown SpaceX drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida.
Related: SpaceX's Starlink satellite mega constellation is launched on images
It was the 10th successful landing for this particular booster, which had previously launched six dedicated Starlink missions, the GPS III-3 satellite for the US military, the Turksat 5A satellite for Turkey and Transporter 2 rideshare mission, which lifted 85 small satellites and three Starlink vessels.
Falcon 9's second stage, meanwhile, kept making its way into orbit, eventually deploying the 49 satellites about 15 minutes after launch. The second stage was out of reach of ground stations when it happened, so confirmation of implementation success came only an hour later.
Today's launch was SpaceX's 36th dedicated Starlink mission, bringing the total number of Starlink satellites up to more than 2,000. All of these spacecraft have been launched since May 2019, with the exception of two prototypes known as TinTin A and TinTin B, which took off in February 2018.
Most of the Starlink satellites are alive and well.
"1,469 Starlink satellites active. 272 move to operational orbits. Laser links will be activated soon," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said via Twitter on Saturday (January 15).
"Laserlinks" refers to an upgrade that SpaceX implemented in 2021 that enables Starlink satellites to communicate effectively with each other without relying on ground relays.
We should see many more Starlink launches over the coming weeks and months. SpaceX already has permission from the US Federal Communications Commission to launch a total of 12,000 Starlink satellites, and the company has submitted papers to the International Telecommunication Union to get another 30,000.
Starlink is not the only broadband mega-constellation in the works. For example, OneWeb is building a network of 648 Internet satellites and is already almost launched 400 of them in orbit. Amazon has announced plans to launch about 3,200 of its own Internet satellites, and California startup Astra recently filed paperwork for its own mega constellation of about 13,000 vessels.
Today's successful rocket landing was the 103rd overall for SpaceX, which routinely reuses space hardware to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Both halves of the payload cover - the protective nose cone that surrounds satellites during launch - that flew today already had a mission under their belt, and SpaceX aimed to fish them out of the ocean for further recycling.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out there"(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the pursuit of alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.