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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket raced against sunrise early Wednesday, taking dozens of internet satellites to orbit from Kennedy Space Center just as the day's first light began to intensify.
The 6:59 a.m. EDT liftoff from pad 39A, the first of two back-to-back launches this week, marked the 48th mission for SpaceX's Starlink constellation of satellites that beam internet connectivity to the ground. The 53 satellites packed into the payload fairing will spend the coming weeks slowly raising their orbits to a final destination of about 350 miles above Earth.
After a flight toward the northeast, the rocket's first stage also completed a successful landing on the Shortfall of Gravitas drone ship. SpaceX has recovered boosters 121 times since the first in December 2015.
If it can sustain the current pace, SpaceX could have 3,000 operational Starlink satellites in orbit before the end of the year.
At neighboring Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, meanwhile, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is slated to boost Boeing's Starliner capsule on an uncrewed mission to the International Space Station. Liftoff from Launch Complex 41 is set for 6:54 p.m. EDT Thursday.
If it flies on time, it will mean just 36 hours elapsed between SpaceX and ULA's missions.
Thursday's flight marks the second demonstration for Starliner, one of two capsules selected by NASA to take astronauts to the ISS after the space shuttle program retired in 2011. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule was also chosen.
Starliner's flight is a re-do of a December 2019 attempt that failed to reach the ISS due to a mix of software and hardware issues. Boeing opted to pay out of its own pocket for a second demo mission, known as Orbital Flight Test 2, that could pave the way for astronauts to fly the capsule for the first time late this year or early next year.
Weather for Atlas V's liftoff, according to a Space Force forecast issued Wednesday, is expected to be about 70% "go."
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: SpaceX rocket races sunrise to launch Starlink internet satellites