WASHINGTON — After four days of delays due to range and weather issues, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched an Italian radar mapping satellite into orbit on Jan. 31, after which it was delayed by four more days.
At 6:11 p.m. Eastern, the Falcon 9 took off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. An hour after liftoff, the rocket’s upper stage deployed the payload, the CosmoSkyMed Second Generation 2 (CSG2) 2 satellite for ASI in Italy and the Italian Military.
Eight minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage made an eight-minute landing at Landing Zone 1 in Cape Canaveral. This booster was originally designed as a side booster to the triple-core Falcon Heavy rocket. It flew on the second Falcon Heavy mission in 2019 and the third Falcon Heavy mission. This launch was the first to see a Falcon Heavy side booster converted into a Falcon 9 booster.
Although originally scheduled for Jan. 27, the launch was postponed due to poor weather. Launch attempts on the following two days were also delayed. The weather cooperated for the fourth attempt on Jan. 30 but a cruise vessel sailed into restricted waters near the Florida coast and was unable to move out of the way in the time necessary for the launch.
Thales Alenia Space’s 2,200-kilogram satellite is the second of four satellites that will replace the original CosmoskyMed satellites, which were launched between 2007-2010. The second-generation satellites can simultaneously capture images from two locations hundreds of kilometers apart, and provide X-band synthetic radar imagery similar to the first-generation satellites.
CSG-2 was initially scheduled to launch on a Vega C. However with that launch delayed until May, ASI decided last fall to move the launch to a Falcon 9 in hopes of launching CSG-2 by the end of the year. This decision raised eyebrows among those in the European space industry.
ASI stated that last fall that it could not have a European backup solution for the CSG-2 schedule because Arianespace’s backlog on Soyuz, Ariane, and Ariane systems was full in 2021. This explains why it decided to purchase a launch from SpaceX. ASI has contracted the launch of the CSG-3 satellite in 2024, as a confirmation of its long-standing support to the European launch industry.
High launch time
This launch marks the fourth Falcon 9 mission in 2022, following two Starlink launches Jan. 6, and Jan. 18 and Transporter-3 rideshare mission Jan. A Falcon 9 launch of Starlink satellites will be made from Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 1, while a Falcon 9 rocket will launch a classified payload to the National Reconnaissance Office at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on Feb. 2.
Although SpaceX executives have yet to give a forecast for the number of launches this year, Sandy Magnus (a member of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel) stated at a Jan. 27 meeting that 52 launches were planned for 2022. That is one launch per week.
She said that it was an amazing pace, but added a cautionary note. “NASA/SpaceX will need to make sure that the proper attention and priority is given to NASA missions, and that the right resources are available to keep that pace at a safe level.
SpaceX has not been able to maintain a high level of launch frequency in the past. SpaceX launched 20 launches in 2021’s first six months. The company then performed only three launches over the next four months. This was partly due to delays in the development and launch of Starlink satellites, which make up the bulk of the Falcon 9 manifest.
SpaceX’s pace picked up in the last two months of the year. It launched three rockets in 72 hours in December. The company’s record number of launches for the year was 31, which is a new high.
SpaceX’s ability to refurbish Falcon 9’s first stages and build a new upper stage will both influence this pace. Elon Musk, SpaceX chief executive, stated that his company’s current pace for refurbishment was not meeting his goals in a podcast he recorded in December. He stated that the booster was not as fast and fully reusable as we would like and that fairings are also not being reused as quickly as we’d prefer.
He also provided an estimate of how much it would cost to launch a Falcon 9 rocket. He stated that the minimum marginal cost of a flight, excluding overhead, is $15-20 million. The bulk of that cost goes to the upper stage which he estimates at $10 million.
“That’s very good. “It’s far superior to any rocket ever made in history,” he stated. However, SpaceX’s Starship vehicle’s full reusability promises to significantly lower that cost and increase payload capacity. Starship could launch for as little as a million dollars per launch and can put more than 100 tons into orbit. This is insane.