SpaceX launched a large batch of OneWeb Internet satellites into orbit Thursday evening (Dec. 8).
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying 40 OneWeb satellites was launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 5:27 p.m. EST (2227 GMT) Thursday and lifted into orbit during a dazzling sunset. Cameras on the ground captured stunning views of the Falcon 9 as its first stage separated, then returned to Earth for a precision landing on the SpaceX platform at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
“We’ve just withdrawn approval to enter nominal orbit,” SpaceX engine engineer Youmei Zhou said during a live launch commentary shortly after landing.
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According to the SpaceX mission description, the Falcon 9 first stage landing was SpaceX’s 145th successful rocket recovery and the fourth launch and landing for this particular booster. (opens in new tab). It previously launched the SpaceX Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA in December 2021, Eutelsat’s Hotbird 13F spacecraft last October, and a batch of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites.
The Falcon 9 upper stage continued to carry the OneWeb satellites into orbit.
“We’ve taken off! Our 40 satellites have left the ground in Florida,” OneWeb announced via Twitter (opens in new tab) after starting. “Thank you to our colleagues at @SpaceX for a successful flight.”
Sahin 9 deployed the spacecraft as planned (opens in new tab) in three roughly equal sets, starting 58 minutes after launch and ending 30 minutes after that.
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OneWeb is building a broadband constellation of 648 satellites in low Earth orbit that will compete to some degree with SpaceX’s Starlink. Before today’s launch, more than 460 OneWeb spacecraft had reached orbit, the vast majority aboard Russian-made Soyuz rockets operated by France’s Arianespace.
That deal fell apart after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, leaving a void for OneWeb. The company soon filled it by signing deals with SpaceX and New Space India Limited (NSIL). (The terms of these contracts have not been disclosed.)
The first flight under the NSIL contract took place on October 21 when India’s GSLV Mark III rocket successfully lifted off 36 OneWeb spacecraft. Thursday’s launch marked SpaceX’s first OneWeb mission. It was also OneWeb’s first launch from Florida, meaning OneWeb now has more than 500 satellites in orbit.
Thursday’s launch was scheduled for Tuesday (Dec. 6), but SpaceX pushed it back. do more checks (opens in new tab) — Elon Musk’s company recently did something with a few Falcon 9 rockets. It was SpaceX’s 55th launch in 2022.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:00 PM EST to celebrate the successful launch of the OneWeb mission by SpaceX. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a SpaceX launch commentator. He is Youmei Zhou, engine engineer at SpaceX. The story was updated again at 9:35 PM EST with news of the satellite’s successful deployment.
Mike Wall is the author of “There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter. @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).