SpaceX launches an Israeli reconnaissance satellite and lands a rocket on its final flight in 2022

With a brilliant nighttime launch from California to carry an Israeli reconnaissance satellite into orbit, SpaceX kicked off 2022 a few days early.

The Israeli Earth-imaging satellite EROS C-3 was launched into orbit late Thursday night (Dec. 29) by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The payload was in orbit for about 15 minutes after it left Earth. At 11:38 p.m. PST (2:38 a.m. EST/0738 GMT), the launch site, liftoff took place. Eight minutes into the flight, the first stage of the Falcon 9 returned to a SpaceX pad nearby.

“This is our 61st and final SpaceX launch of 2022,” Jesse Anderson, SpaceX’s production and engineering manager, said during a live webcast.

Earth observation satellite EROS C-3, or Earth Resources Observation Satellite C3, was built by Israel-based maker ImageSat International to allow “defense and intelligence organizations to conduct operations under complete confidentiality and data protection.” Spaceflight Now reports that it cost around $186 million.

EROS A, the first EROS satellite, was launched in 2000 and returned to Earth in 2006. Probably because of security concerns, little information is available about the fleet’s active members (EROS-B, EROS-C1, and EROS C2).

EROS-C3 has a resolution of around one foot (30 centimeters) for greyscale pictures and two feet (60 cm) for multispectral imagery, as per Everyday Astronaut. It will be one of four EROS satellites by the end of the decade, working alongside two synthetic aperture radar satellites.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was retrogradely launched to deploy EROS-C3 in low Earth orbit (against the Earth’s rotation). After that, the first stage performed three burns—an entry burn, a landing burn, and a boost back maneuver—to land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket made its 11th flight at this point. It recently flew two space traveler trips for NASA, two Starlink web satellite missions and six arranged uncrewed business and NASA missions. It was the 160th time a SpaceX orbital rocket, including the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters, had successfully landed.

SpaceX also carried out its second launch in as many days with the EROS C-3 mission. On Wednesday (Dec. 28), the organization sent off its most memorable Gen2 Starlink web satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Power Base in Florida, conveying 54 of the next-generation Starlinks into space.

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