SpaceX has closed out a banner 2022, efficiently launching its 61st Falcon-class mission of the yr in a single day Thursday/Friday. The flight-seasoned B1061 core—which turns into solely the sixth Falcon 9 to log an eleventh launch—took flight from House Launch Complicated (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg House Power Base, Calif., at 11:38 p.m. PST Thursday (2:38 a.m. EST Friday), laden with the EROS-C3 electro-optical reconnaissance satellite tv for pc for Israel’s Ministry of Protection. Final night time’s spectacular launch additionally marked the primary time that SpaceX has flown seven instances inside a single calendar month.
However with climate situations at Vandenberg hovering round 30-percent-favorable, the unique T-0 of 11:17 p.m. PST Thursday (2:17 a.m. EST Friday) was missed. Happily, the EROS-C3 mission benefited from a spacious 59-minute “launch window”, permitting SpaceX groups to trace in the direction of a revised T-0 goal of 11:38 p.m. PST Thursday (2:38 a.m. EST Friday).
Sixty-one missions virtually doubles SpaceX’s earlier personal-best of 31 launches, achieved on the shut of final yr. And that raft of flights has been achieved utilizing solely 17 Falcon 9 cores, one of which flew no less than eight times.
Together with final night time’s launch, 13 missions have occurred from Vandenberg, more than doubling SpaceX’s previous annual record of six flights, set again in 2018. The West Coast haul of missions featured a pair of extremely secretive payloads for the Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace in February and April and Germany’s SARah-1 radar-imaging surveillance satellite tv for pc in June.
Added to that listing was the NASA-led Floor Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission earlier in December and eight Starlink launches between February and October. That totaled 392 of those small flat-packed web communications satellites, certain for insertion into orbits of both 97.6 levels or 53.2 levels to the equator.
SpaceX’s most prolific yr on file out of Vandenberg earned a brand new mission solely in mid-December, when Israel’s EROS-C3—the acronym denotes “Earth Sources Remark Programs”—made an look on the manifest. Thought to weigh within the area of 880 kilos (400 kilograms), the satellite tv for pc is reportedly focused for a 320-mile-high (510-kilometer) orbit, with an anticipated operational lifespan of a decade.
EROS-C3 carries cameras outfitted with Cost Couple Gadget/Time Delay Integration (CCD/TDI) sensors) and can generate panchromatic imagery of the bottom at resolutions as effective as 12 inches (30 centimeters) and multispectral imagery right down to 24 inches (60 centimeters), with a nadir-pointing floor swath of seven.1 miles (11.5 kilometers). Few different particulars are recognized, with even the mission’s patch revealing little about this late arrival on an already bulging 2022 Falcon 9 manifest.
Flying final night time’s mission was B1061, which turned solely the sixth Falcon 9 core to launch an eleventh time. She first took flight from the East Coast, back in November 2020, lifting Dragon Resilience and Crew-1 astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker of NASA, plus Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, to the Worldwide House Station (ISS).
In so doing, she marked the primary U.S. crewed mission to launch in darkness for the reason that twilight of the shuttle program, a decade earlier. 5 months later, in April 2021, B1061 lifted Dragon Endeavour and Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Japan’s Aki Hoshide and France’s Thomas Pesquet to the ISS for a mission which, at 199 days, remains the longest single flight by any U.S. crewed spacecraft.
Her human-hauling duties over, B1061 settled final summer time right into a extra common routine as a payload lifter. She launched SiriusXM’s heavyweight SXM-8 broadcasting satellite tv for pc last June, SpaceX’s CRS-23 Cargo Dragon to the ISS last August and NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) last December.
Because the begin of 2022, she has chalked up six extra flights: lifting two Starlink batches—95 satellites in whole—in February and August, delivering the Transporter-4 and 5 multi-payload “stacks” on April Fool’s Day and late May and a Globalstar-2 world cell communications satellite tv for pc and a possible payload for an undisclosed U.S. Government customer in June. Solely 25 days elapsed between her Transporter-5 and Globalstar-2 missions, the second-shortest turnaround by a booster in Falcon 9 history.
Following her Globalstar-2 mission, B1061 was moved west to Vandenberg and her most up-to-date pair of missions—Starlink in August and EROS-C3 final night time—have been performed from the West Coast.
It stays unclear whether or not B1061’s transfer west will lead her into retirement and a potential “disposable” mission or if the elevated flight tempo out of Vandenberg within the remaining months of 2022 required an extra booster.
Liftoff occurred on time at 11:17 p.m. PST Thursday (2:17 a.m. EST) Friday, as B1061 powered into the darkness underneath the thrust of her 9 Merlin 1D+ engines for the ultimate mission of the yr. The core separated from the remainder of the Falcon 9 stack at 2.5 minutes into flight, after which the booster’s second stage picked up the baton with a prolonged “burn” of its Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine.
This served to place EROS-C3 for deployment about 14 minutes after launch. All informed, practically 2,000 discrete payloads have been ferried uphill by SpaceX in 2022, together with 1,722 Starlinks on 34 Falcon 9 missions.
Within the meantime, B1061 returned to alight—for the primary time in her profession—on stable floor at Touchdown Zone (LZ)-4 at Vandenberg. She had beforehand landed 9 instances aboard SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) and as soon as at Touchdown Zone (LZ)-1 on the Cape.
Added to that listing, a pair of multi-payload Transporter missions have lifted an extra 204 payloads spanning disciplines from expertise to training and Earth observations to science. And earlier in December, SpaceX launched 40 broadband web satellites on behalf of the London, England-headquartered supplier, OneWeb.
Different missions included South Korea’s first lunar voyage, 9 geostationary-bound communications satellites, three crewed visits and a pair of uncrewed cargo missions to the ISS and the return-to-flight after a three-year-plus hiatus of the triple-barreled Falcon Heavy, lofting the highly secretive USSF-44 payload for the U.S. Space Force.
For the primary time in 2022, Falcon 9 cores logged record-setting 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th launches. Turnaround instances between missions by particular person boosters have narrowed from 27 days to just 21 days, intervals between flights have narrowed from 15 hours between a pair of launches final December to solely six hours between a pair of launches in early October.
And in April, SpaceX flew its first six-launch month, an accomplishment it went on to repeat in July, August and October. With final night time’s flight, for the primary time, it has now flown seven instances in a single calendar month.
Up subsequent, maybe as quickly as Monday, 2 January, consideration returns to the East Coast and 2023’s opening mission, anticipated to launch from storied Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla. Carrying a large number of “rideshare” payloads within the fields of reconnaissance, communications, air-traffic administration, expertise, novice radio and navigation—the precise variety of small satellites stays to be revealed—the mission will mark the primary of what Elon Musk anticipates may very well be as much as 100 launches in 2023.
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