SpaceX launched a $186 million Israeli Earth-imaging satellite early on Friday to close out a record-setting year. This was the California-based rocket maker's 61st and final Falcon 9 launch of 2022, as well as its seventh this month—both modern-day records.
Since the launch of the rocket in 2010, SpaceX has completed 194 Falcon 9 launches, four of which were triple-core Falcon Heavies. This totals a run of 179 consecutive successful flights, with the company's only in-flight failure occurring in 2015.
The number of flights this year is just one less than last year's total. In 2023, even more flights are anticipated, including the first orbital launch of SpaceX's massive Super Heavy/Starship rocket, at least two commercial crew flights, two cargo flights to the International Space Station, and two NASA astronaut ferry flights.
"Launch 61 of 2022. Congrats SpaceX!" company founder Elon Musk tweeted.
At 2:38 a.m. EST, the final mission of the year got underway when the first stage engines of the Falcon 9 burst into life. The 229-foot-tall rocket was moving smoothly away from launch pad 4-East at Vandenberg Space Force Base, northwest of Los Angeles.
The 11th flight of the first stage lifted the rocket out of the lower atmosphere before it disintegrated and flew back to a successful landing near the launch pad. This was SpaceX's eighth landing in California and the company's 160th successful recovery all together.
The single motor driving the subsequent stage, in the interim, terminated for seven minutes and 15 seconds, delivering the EROS C-3 satellite into its arranged circle around 15 minutes after takeoff.
"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 worked by Israel Aircraft Industries and is owned by ImageSat International. The EROS C-3 has redundant camera systems that are able to resolve surface features with a width of less than one foot.
The new satellite is one of two that are believed to be "commercialized" Israeli spy satellites that are already in orbit. A constellation of the next generation will include additional satellites, including radar imaging spacecraft.
"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."
Spaceflight Now reports that company documents put the EROS C-3 satellite's value at $186 million.