SpaceX launches Italian remote sensing satellite in spectacular fashion
After three weather delays and a scrub Sunday due to a temperamental cruise ship, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket finally lifted off Monday on its fifth try, putting on a spectacular sunset sky show as it climbed toward the sky. orbit, dropping its booster first stage along the way for a fiery descent to landing at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Thanks to clear skies, locals and tourists, including cruise ship passengers who had just departed, were able to view the entire sequence, from launch to landing, while observers closer to the Space Force station were rocked by two shotgun-shaped sonic booms. .
Using a first-stage booster that was making its third flight, Falcon 9 soared skyward at 6:11 p.m. EST, hurtling south to a 385-mile-high orbit inclined at nearly 98 degrees from the equator.
After lifting the payload out of the lower atmosphere, the first stage separated, turned around and lifted off to land at Space Force Station, marking SpaceX’s 104th successful booster recovery and its 22nd in Florida.
The second stage, meanwhile, fired its single vacuum engine twice to reach the planned polar orbit. The COSMO-SkyMed satellite was released to fly on its own about an hour after liftoff.
The launch was originally scheduled for last Thursday, but the flight was delayed two days in a row by bad weather. SpaceX chose to pass up a Saturday launch opportunity due to high winds. The weather was ideal on Sunday, but another scrub was ordered when a cruise ship departing from Port Canaveral strayed into the offshore danger zone.
As other cruise ships departed on Monday, the Falcon 9 was cleared for launch and successfully delivered its payload to the desired orbit.
COSMOS-SkyMed is the second of a new generation of imaging radar remote sensing satellites built by Thales Alenia Space for the Italian Space Agency.
Observing the entire planet as it revolves beneath them, COSMO-SkyMed radar satellites provide agricultural mapping, disaster monitoring and environmental observations around the clock, unaffected by changing lighting or the presence of clouds that could thwart visible light cameras.
Satellites can resolve surface features smaller than one meter when zoomed in on a specific target. They can also operate in “stripmap” mode, observing a continuous strip of land, or in a third mode that captures images of an area 124 miles on either side of a satellite’s ground path.
Since the launch of the first generation satellites in 2007, 2 million images have been sent, covering 2.8 billion square miles, or about 14 times the total area of planet Earth. Using four satellites, sites can be revisited for updated imagery in as little as two hours.
Monday’s launch was SpaceX’s fourth so far this year, maintaining a rapid firing rate after a record 31 launches last year. The company plans up to 52 launches in 2022, an average of one a week, according to retired NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus.
Now a member of NASA’s aerospace security advisory committee, Magnus said the launch rate poses challenges for both SpaceX and NASA, which relies on Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
“NASA has several crew rotation flights on SpaceX underway in 2022, and SpaceX has a private mission to the ISS via Axiom 1,” she told the panel on Thursday, referring to a launch paid for by Axiom Space, based in Houston. “If anything, NASA and SpaceX will need to be careful in 2022 that they don’t fall victim to their own success.”
“There’s an ambitious 52 launch manifesto for SpaceX over the course of the year, and that’s an incredible pace. And NASA and SpaceX will need to ensure that proper attention and priority is focused on the missions of NASA and that the right resources are being brought in to support maintaining this pace (safely).”