It’s up, up and away for another SpaceX Starlink mission. At 5:45 this morning PST, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida, adding 48 new satellites to SpaceX’s 2,000-strong constellation of internet-providing devices orbiting the Earth.
This launch was the fourth for the booster, which landed on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the Atlantic Ocean a few minutes into the mission.
While this flight was nothing new for SpaceX — the company has launched seven Starlink missions this year, plus three other missions — there was a particularly interesting quip tossed into the launch sequence.
“Time to let the American broomstick fly and hear the sounds of freedom,” called out SpaceX’s launch director before issuing her “go” for launch.
That comment refers to a jab made by Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, last week after he banned the sale of Russian rocket engines to the United States in response to the increasingly tense situation between the two countries. “Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what,” he said on a state news broadcast.
Though Falcon 9 rockets use SpaceX’s proprietary Merlin engines for propulsion, other American rockets — specifically United Launch Alliances’s Atlas V and Northrop Grumman’s Antares — are powered by Russian engines. ULA has announced that it has enough engines in stock for its upcoming launches, but Northrop Grumman has not issued a statement about how the embargo might affect its missions.
In either case, it’s SpaceX that makes up the lion’s share of U.S. rocket launches, and its broomsticks are doing just fine, as today’s launch showed us.
The next SpaceX launch is not a Starlink mission, but a crewed one. Scheduled for launch on March 30, the Axiom-1 mission will be the first all-private flight to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX already has quite a bit of experience on the crewed-mission front — it’s already flown four NASA crews to the ISS, plus the Inspiration 4 mission, whose all-civilian crew orbited the Earth in a Crew Dragon capsule for several days.