WASHINGTON — SpaceX capped the busiest year in its two-decade history on Dec. 30 with the launch of Falcon 9, an Israeli commercial imaging satellite.
A Falcon 9 lifted off at 2:38 a.m. Eastern Time from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Space Force Base Vandenberg in California. The rocket’s first stage, performing its 11th mission, landed at the launch site eight minutes after liftoff.
Falcon 9’s upper stage deployed its payload, the EROS C3 imaging satellite, nearly 15 minutes after liftoff. The satellite was launched to an altitude of nearly 500 kilometers into an unusual medium-inclination retrograde orbit, rather than the sun-synchronous orbit commonly used for optical imaging spacecraft.
EROS C3 was built by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for ImageSat International, a commercial imaging company based in Tel Aviv. The 400 kilogram satellite, based on IAI’s OPTSAT-3000 bus, is designed to take images at a resolution of 30 centimeters.
ImageSat International, which went public in February on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, said in a prospectus filed in that process that EROS C3 cost the company $186 million, a figure that included the spacecraft itself. -even, launch and insurance. The company planned to use part of the $100 million raised through its IPO to pay for some of the remaining costs to build and launch the spacecraft.
EROS C3 joins EROS B, launched in 2006, as satellites owned and operated by ImageSat International. The company also offers images of two other satellites, which it calls EROS C1 and EROS C2, which are owned by an anonymous third party but have similar capabilities to EROS C3. These satellites may be part of the Ofeq series of Israeli reconnaissance satellites, also built by IAI, which operate in medium-inclination retrograde orbits similar to EROS C3 due to launch limitations from Israel.
EROS C3 is part of ImageSat’s EROS NG constellation, which includes EROS C1 and C2 as well as a planned future imaging satellite, EROS C4, scheduled for launch in 2026. EROS NG will also incorporate two synthetic radar satellites opening which will belong to an unnamed third party marketed by ImageSat.
The launch of EROS C3 capped off the busiest year yet for SpaceX. The company carried out 61 launches, all of them successful, in 2022. All but one, a Falcon Heavy launch for the US Space Force, were from the company’s Falcon 9 vehicle, which has become a workhorse for the global space industry .
SpaceX nearly doubled its launch rate from 2021, when the company completed a record 31 Falcon 9 launches. That launch activity was driven by the company’s Starlink constellation, which accounted for 34 of the 61 launches in 2022.
The 61 launches performed by SpaceX in 2022 exceeded the target of 60 set by Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of SpaceX, in a tweet in March. Musk hasn’t publicly stated how many launches he expects SpaceX to perform in 2023, but SpaceX’s first launch of the new year, the dedicated Transporter-6 rideshare mission, is slated for no earlier than June 2. January on a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral space. Launch Complex 40.