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SpaceX successfully launches two rockets hours apart
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SpaceX successfully launches two rockets hours apart
by Mark Moran
Washington DC (UPI) Dec 28, 2023

Less than three hours after the launch of a mysterious space plane atop a Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX launched a second launch Thursday night, at 11:01 p.m. EST, deploying its latest batch of Starlink internet satellites into low-Earth orbit.

The secretive space plane went into orbit earlier in the evening via a Falcon Heavy rocket as part of a payload that also includes scores of living plant seeds that are part of NASA's mission to understand the effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans and how those plants grow in space. It was the shortest time between launches at Cape Canaveral since 1966.

Thursday night's launch, in which the Falcon 9 rocket rode a blazing column of fire, which was broadcast live, leaves SpaceX just shy of 100 launches in 2023, at 98. The company has added substantially to the number of broadband satellites it has put in orbit and created competition in the Internet service provider market. SpaceX's final mission for 2023, number 99, is scheduled to launch Saturday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

That's an increase of nearly 70% over last year's total, when SpaceX carried out 61 launches, and that was double what it achieved in 2021. Most of the launches are of Falcon 9 rockets, but SpaceX has also launched a small handful of Falcon Heavy rockets, such as the one that carried the space plane into orbit Thursday night.

As of last month, the Starlink internet satellite constellation consisted of more than 5,200 broadband-providing small satellites in low-Earth orbit. The company has said it intends to deploy as many as 12,000 satellites for Starlink, and is seeking approval to launch as many as 42,000 in the years to come. Critics of the high volume technology have blamed the plethora of satellites for creating space junk, light pollution and low Earth hazards for other spacecraft.

For SpaceX, which has become well known for reusing its spacecraft infrastructure, Thursday night's launch was the 12th flight for this first-stage booster, which returns to Earth and lands aboard a vessel in the water after blasting the rocket into orbit. In this case, the booster landed on a drone ship 'A Shortfall of Gravitas' about eight and a half minutes into the flight.

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