SpaceX has landed an individual Falcon 9 booster for a record eighth time after pushing the envelope on winds above the waiting drone ship.
The launch had been delayed from 18 January due to what the company called "unfavorable weather conditions in the recovery area". There was a further delay on 19 January "to allow additional time for pre-launch inspections" before Elon Musk's band of rocketeers lit the blue touchpaper and stood well back earlier today.
The first Starlink mission of 2021 left Kennedy Space Center's LC39-A at 1302 UTC. The veteran booster had previously flown on seven other missions, most recently SXM-7 in December. As well as multiple Starlink launches, the Falcon 9 first stage had also seen action in March 2019 for the Demo-1 mission of the Crew Dragon capsule.
Falcon 9 launches Starlink to orbit – the eighth launch and landing of this booster pic.twitter.com/zyj8ZdDFql— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 20, 2021
Not content with notching up a new record for the number of launches and landings for one of its Falcon 9 first stages, SpaceX also managed a turnaround time of under 40 days between missions.
SpaceX's commentator warned during the launch that the ground winds at the landing zone were higher than usual, and that the company was seeking to extend its launchers' envelope of operations.
Expectations duly managed, observers would have been forgiven for expecting things to go sideways as the Falcon 9 descended, but were instead rewarded by an image of the booster safely upright on the Just Read The Instructions droneship.
The payload fairings were also reused items, having seen action in previous Starlink missions.
The deployment of the latest batch of 60 astronomer-delighting communication satellites marked the 17th Starlink mission in total and over 1,000 satellites placed into orbit (if one counts test units and those that have since failed). More will be added in the coming years as the constellation is built. ®
Braving stiff winds, the Falcon 9 booster has successfully landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaveral.— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) January 20, 2021
This was the eighth flight of this first stage, making it SpaceX’s fleet leader.https://t.co/EUVptgsLi8 pic.twitter.com/Z2MCj42vbs