SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carries its heaviest payload to space

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket thundered to space on Thursday morning carrying its heaviest-ever payload.

Launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 4:22 a.m. ET, the Falcon 9 took with it 56 Starlink internet satellites as part of a payload weighing 17,400 kilograms (38,400 pounds), according to comments made during a livestream of the mission.

This was the ninth space trip for the first-stage booster, which previously launched two crewed missions to the International Space Station, as well as the CRS-22, Turksat 5B, CRS-25, Eutelsat Hotbird 13G, and mPower-a missions, and now two Starlink missions.

As usual, SpaceX livestreamed the early stages of the flight on its YouTube channel. Below is a clip of the rocket departing the launch site on Thursday:

Almost nine minutes after leaving the launchpad, the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster returned to Earth to perform a perfect landing on SpaceX’s drone ship, called Just Read the Instructions, which was waiting off the Florida coast.

Sending the booster on its ninth flight, and bringing it safely home again, is a salute to the wizardry of the SpaceX engineers who developed the system for reusing the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster. Such a process enables SpaceX to slash the cost of space flights while offering a greater frequency of flights for customers, among them NASA.

While nine flights may sound impressive, SpaceX has another booster that’s already been on 15 missions to space. After returning to Earth, the boosters are taken away for checks and refurbishment work before being delivered back to the launchpad.

SpaceX is now getting ready to use one of its Falcon 9 rockets for a crewed flight in late February, its first such mission since October 2022. The Crew-6 mission will send an international crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon that, like the boosters, has already conduced several missions.

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