SpaceX set a new record today when it launched the heaviest payload in its history on a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is currently the only medium-lift rocket capable of self-landing recovery, and it has become the company’s workhorse for a variety of missions such as its Starlink satellite launches, astronaut launches, cargo missions to the International Space Station and missions for other companies. Today’s launch took place in the early morning hours from Launch Complex 40 at the U.S. Air Force’s Cape Canaveral Station in Florida.
The launch may be an outpost of SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink satellite deployment program, and SpaceX’s goal of launching 30,000 such spacecraft in space has been a source of controversy at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as SpaceX’s opponents have not only questioned the number of satellites, but criticized its use of Starship to launch second-generation satellites s plans.
SpaceX’s plan, which calls for using the Falcon 9 (Configuration 2) or Starship (Configuration 1) to launch satellites, received partial approval from the FCC in December, when it was allowed to launch 7,500 satellites. The company filed regulatory filings in mid-December last year, notifying the FCC that it plans to launch new satellites by the end of the year. Under the new license, SpaceX is now able to deploy satellites to new orbits, which will add more capacity to the space network.
Earth’s horizon visible from the Starlink 5-2 satellite launched by SpaceX on Jan. 26, 2023
Today’s launch is SpaceX’s 205th mission, its sixth this year, the second launch of the next generation of Starlink satellites and the second Starlink launch in 2023. The previous launch took place a week ago. While SpaceX promised the committee in January 2022 that it would stick with Configuration 1 for Starlink launches, documents filed after the initial 7,500-satellite approval indicate that Falcon 9 will also be used for these new satellites.
With these details in mind, SpaceX increased the number of launch licenses for the spacecraft for both launches of the new spacecraft. The mission flew 56 satellites into orbit that weighed an unprecedented 17,400 kilograms – a new record for its Falcon 9 rocket.
The increase in payload weight also comes in tandem with SpaceX’s accelerated progress on Starship testing. The wet dress rehearsal earlier this week was a key development as it will open the way for what could be the most critical test in Starship’s development. The test is the static firing of 33 Raptor 2 engines, which will produce nearly 17 million pounds of thrust to power the world’s largest rocket. Development progress on Starship has picked up pace over the past few months, with SpaceX’s plans calling for a launch to the moon to be completed later this year.