SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes 50th orbital launch of 2022

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes 50th orbital launch of 2022

SpaceX has successfully launched French satellite communications provider Eutelsat’s Hotbird 13G satellite, breaking down an overcrowded November manifesto and completing Falcon 9’s 50th launch of 2022.

The company’s workhorse rocket lifted off on Nov. 3 at 1:22 a.m. EDT from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) LC-40 platform with the 4.5-ton (~9,900 lb) geostationary communications satellite in tow at 1:22 a.m. EDT – 116 minutes later than originally scheduled to leave more time “to complete pre-flight checkouts.” But Falcon 9 performed flawlessly, growing a record-breaking streak with its 160th consecutive successful launch.

The Falcon 9 booster B1067 flew for the seventh time since it debuted in June 2021 and just 45 days after its sixth flight, it completed a nominal ascent, separation, descent, return and landing. The booster landed about nine minutes after launch on SpaceX’s drone ship Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) and will be primed for an eighth launch in the near future — possibly as early as next month. In addition to the well-known booster reuse, SpaceX’s webcast host noted that Falcon 9’s payload fairing — a carbon fiber composite nosecone made up of two separable halves — allowed the halves to fly for a fourth and sixth time.

In 2017, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk once compared every Falcon fairing half to a $3 million pallet that falls into the ocean after each launch. Around the same time, SpaceX decided to try and recover that pallet of money, starting the fairing recovery and reuse program. Five years later, Falcon fairing reuse – though far less visible and famous than booster reuse – has become extremely reliable. At the current rate of one launch every six days, restoring and reusing fairings will likely save SpaceX tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year and reduce the need for major production expansions that would otherwise be required.

Although SpaceX fishes the fairing halves out of the ocean before each flight, the company’s cleaning and refurbishment processes have improved to such an extent that even paying customers have come to accept the flight-proven fairings at their launches. Eutelsat’s Hotbird 13G satellite is a customer’s first payload to use a Falcon fairing half for the sixth time, raising the bar for adoption.

A SpaceX employee demonstrates the scale of a standard Falcon fairing half during early recovery testing in 2018. (Pauline Acalin)
Hotbird 13G’s Falcon fairing halves flew for the fourth and sixth time. (SpaceX)

About half an hour after launch, Falcon 9’s replaceable upper stage separated from the Hotbird 13G. On October 15, another Falcon 9 rocket launched its twin, Hotbird 13F, into a supersynchronous orbit of about 400 kilometers (~245 miles) by 56,000 kilometers (~34,800 miles). Launching a satellite to a transfer orbit with an apogee higher than its destination makes reaching a circular orbit at that target altitude (35,800 km in this case) faster and easier. With less work to do to raise the track, the Hotbird 13F and 13G have more fuel than they would otherwise, effectively extending their theoretical life by retaining more propellant for maintenance of the track after reaching GEO .

Hotbird 13G was SpaceX’s 51st launch in 2022 and the 59th launch in 365 days. If SpaceX maintains its average pace from the past ten months through the last two months of 2022, it could end the year after launching more than 60 times. The mission also marked Falcon 9’s 50th launch in 2022, cementing its position as the most launched rocket in a calendar year. The record for the most successful launches (61) of the same rocket family however, in one year was established by the Soviet Union and has been established for more than four decades.

SpaceX has at least five more Falcon 9 launches planned this month. The Intelsat Galaxy 31 and 32 satellites are next and could launch as early as November 8 from the same path as Hotbird 13G, followed by Eutelsat 10B in mid-Novemberand Japanese startup ispaces first lunar lander no sooner than Nov 22. An unmanned Dragon spacecraft is ready to launch NASA payloads to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 20th. Finally, although tentative and subject to three other launches going smoothly, SpaceX could squeeze in Starlink 4-37 end of November.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket completes 50th orbital launch of 2022

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