Yesterday evening, February 15, 2021, SpaceX successfully put 60 Starlink broadband satellites into orbit. However, the mission was marred by the unexpected loss of the Falcon 9 first stage upon its attempt to land on a drone shop for reflight.
SpaceX Starlink launch took place on 10:59 ET from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Pad 40, the second Falcon 9 launch and second Starlink launch in February. All 60 LEO broadband satellites were successfully put into their designated orbit by the Falcon 9 second stage, but trouble apparently occurred during the landing cycle for the first stage. Video from the first stage appears to show irregularities on the first stage entry burn, followed by a loss of telemetry from the vehicle and the crash of the booster near the SpaceX drone recovery ship.
This was the sixth flight for this Falcon 9 first stage. SpaceX has successfully flown the Falcon 9 first stage up to eight times, with the company asserting one can fly up to 10 flights with minor changes. The loss stops a run of 24 straight successful Falcon 9 landings since the spring of 2020.
It is unclear if yesterday’s launch will have a significant impact either on SpaceX’s launch tempo or further launches of Starlink satellites. The next Starlink launch was planned to take place on Wednesday, February 17, but the company is likely to pose those plans for a day or more as it reviews the data from the landing failure.
SpaceX has six Falcon 9 first stages in inventory, with three of them designated for upcoming NASA and U.S. Space Force missions. Since Starlink launches are internal costs to SpaceX, it is unlikely paying government or commercial customers would be bumped.
There are over 1,000 Starlink satellites in orbit and 1,440 are needed to provide global coverage for the satellite broadband network. SpaceX Starlink beta customers are currently paying $499 for the equipment and $99 per month for the service, with the site currently open for $99 pre-order reservations on a worldwide basis. The majority of SpaceX Starlink customers seem to be in the United States and Canada, with users starting to appear in the UK and Germany.