Closing out a record-setting year, SpaceX launched a $186 million Israeli Earth-imaging satellite early Friday, the California rocket builder’s 61st and final Falcon 9 launch of 2022 and its seventh this month, both modern-day records.
Since the rocket’s debut in 2010, SpaceX has chalked up 194 Falcon 9 launches overall — 198 including four triple-core Falcon Heavies — putting together a string of 179 straight successful flights since the company’s only in-flight failure in 2015.
This year’s flight total falls one short of doubling last year’s. Even more flights are expected in 2023, including two NASA astronaut ferry flights to the International Space Station, at least two commercial crew flights, two station cargo flights, and the maiden orbital launch of SpaceX’s huge Super Heavy/Starship rocket.
“Launch 61 of 2022. Congrats SpaceX!” company founder Elon Musk tweeted.
The year’s final mission got underway at 2:38 a.m. EST when the Falcon 9’s first stage engines roared to life, smoothly pushing the 229-foot-tall rocket away from launch pad 4-East at Vandenberg Space Force Base northwest of Los Angeles.
The first stage, making its 11th flight, propelled the rocket out of the lower atmosphere before falling away and flying itself back to a successful touchdown near the launch pad. It was SpaceX’s eighth California landing and its 160th successful recovery overall.
The single engine powering the second stage, meanwhile, fired for seven minutes and 15 seconds, releasing the EROS C-3 satellite into its planned orbit about 15 minutes after liftoff.
“It’s official! We’re pleased to announce that #EROSC3 was successfully launched into orbit by @SpaceX!” tweeted satellite operator ImageSat International.
The Earth Resources Observation Satellite — EROS — was built by Israel Aircraft Industries and is owned by ImageSat International. EROS C-3 s equipped with redundant camera systems capable of resolving surface features less than one foot across.
The new satellite joins two others already in orbit that are believed to be “commercialized” Israeli spy satellites. Additional satellites, including radar imaging spacecraft, are planned as part of a next-generation constellation.
“In today’s military reality, intelligence gathering is based on speed, accuracy and quality,” ImageSat says on its website. “Meet EROS C, the next generation of remote sensing technology and the core of the EROS NG constellation, one of the world’s most powerful intelligence collection assets.
“Through ISI’s advanced ground control segment, it enables defense and intelligence organizations to conduct operations under complete confidentiality and data protection, as well as independent mission execution.”
Company documents valued the EROS C-3 satellite at $186 million, according to Spaceflight Now.