SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites, but rocket misses landing

Elon Musk's company did what it set out to do Monday, but its rocket went for an unplanned swim.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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A disturbance can be seen just off camera as a Falcon 9 first stage made a soft water landing next to the droneship.

Video capture by Eric Mack/CNET

SpaceX sent another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit Monday, but didn't quite stick the landing of its Falcon 9 rocket.

Elon Musk's space company did achieve its primary objective of sending 60 more flying nodes for its nascent global broadband service into space, bringing the total number of Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit to nearly 300. 

A secondary goal for the fifth Starlink mission, as with most SpaceX launches, was to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 by landing it on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. But this time the rocket missed the mark by a smidge. At the time it was expected to land, the live webcast from the droneship showed smoke or steam just off camera as the Falcon 9 made a "soft water landing." 

SpaceX reported during the webcast that the rocket appears to be intact and floating on the ocean, but it remains unclear whether it can be recovered. The booster had a useful life, having already launched three earlier SpaceX missions in 2019 before Monday's Starlink mission. Had it landed on target, it would have been the 50th successful booster landing for the company. Now we may have to wait until the next planned Falcon 9 launch on March 2 to see that milestone.

Watch this: Are SpaceX Starlink satellites ruining the night sky?

As for the Starlink satellites, they were deployed shortly after the missed landing. They're likely to be at their most visible from the ground over the next few days as they begin the climb to their operational altitude. If you want to see the bright and controversial Starlink "trains" wending their way overhead, check out our primer on spotting them here

The brightness of the satellites has alarmed astronomers who say Starlink and other large satellite constellations pose a threat to their work. SpaceX has been working with astronomers to address the problem, and recently Musk tweeted that the reflectivity of the satellites "will drop significantly on almost every successive launch."

Musk and SpaceX haven't responded to requests for more information. SpaceX launched a "DarkSat" with a dark coating as part of a Starlink launch earlier this year, but the effectiveness of the coating is unclear. 

The next Starlink launch is set for some time in March, following the March 2 Falcon 9 mission to resupply the International Space Station. 

Originally published Feb. 17, 8:50 a.m. PT.

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