SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rocket on record-tying 20th mission (video)

SpaceX tied its rocket-reuse record on Saturday night (April 27).

Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 8:34 p.m. EDT (0034 GMT on April 28).

It was the 20th launch for this Falcon 9's first stage, according to a SpaceX mission description. That tied a mark set earlier this month by a different Falcon 9 booster, on a launch of SpaceX's Starlink internet satellites.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a European Commission Galileo satellite lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, April 27, 2024.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a European Commission Galileo satellite lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, April 27, 2024. (Image credit: SpaceX via X)

The launch added to the Galileo constellation, Europe's equivalent of the United States' Global Positioning System (GPS). Twenty-eight Galileo satellites have launched to date, all of them atop Russian-built Soyuz rockets or Europe's Ariane 5.

But the Ariane 5 retired last summer without a ready successor, and Europe cut most of its space ties with Russia following the latter's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. So, late last year, the European Space Agency inked a deal with SpaceX to launch up to four Galileo craft over two launches in 2024. Saturday's mission was presumably the first of those two liftoffs.

The Galileo satellites reside in medium Earth orbit, 14,430 miles (23,222 kilometers) above our planet, which means there was no rocket stage landing tonight — a rarity these days for a SpaceX flight.

"Due to the additional performance required to deliver the payload to medium Earth orbit, this mission marks the 20th and final launch for this Falcon 9 first stage booster," SpaceX wrote in the mission description.

The Falcon 9 stage that already has 20 launches under its belt, by contrast, landed safely after its record flight on April 12. Starlink satellites fly in low Earth orbit, so the booster had enough fuel left over to return to Earth.

Saturday's launch began a busy weekend for SpaceX; the company also plans to launch yet another Starlink batch on Sunday evening (April 28) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, which is next door to KSC.

And the weekend is part of a very busy year. SpaceX has already launched 41 orbital missions in 2024, 28 of which have been devoted to building out the Starlink megaconstellation.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.