SpaceX conducted a successful launch of two German radar reconnaissance satellites on Sunday morning from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The Sarah-2 satellites were deployed into orbit after a flawless flight of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket in what marked SpaceX’s final mission of 2023.
Falcon 9 Delivers Payload Without Issues
The Falcon 9 lifted off at 5:56 a.m. PST from Space Launch Complex 4E on south Vandenberg under clear skies. Its nine Merlin 1D engines thundered to life to begin the ascent, quickly clearing the pad and lighting up the pre-dawn sky. The booster powered through Max Q, the period of maximum aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle, then continued its upward trajectory as planned.
The first stage separated a few minutes after liftoff, landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Pacific Ocean. The single-engine second stage then ignited to finish carrying the Sarah satellites into their designated orbit. Deployment of the payloads came about an hour into the mission, completing SpaceX’s 22nd and final launch of the year.
German Radar Satellites Join Growing Space-Based Sensor Network
The Sarah satellites belong to the German military and will operate as an integrated system designed to survey wide regions and detect ground activity through synthetic aperture radar imaging. They will provide the German military new capabilities to keep watch both at home and abroad.
Germany plans to ultimately launch five Sarah satellites to form its radar network in space. Sarah-2 and its twin launched Sunday are the second and third, joining Sarah-1 which has been operational since late 2022.
|Sarah Satellite Overview
|Sarah-1: July 2022
Sarah-2 and 3: Dec 2023
|OHB System AG
|Radar imaging capabilities
|All-weather, day & night; wide-area ground surveys
“We welcome the successful launch of our country’s next-generation radar reconnaissance satellite system, which will bolster our independent satellite image assessment capabilities,” said a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Defense.
The radar satellite network’s imaging allows Germany to reduce reliance on partners like the U.S. and France for surveillance data. But the country still collaborates closely with American and European allies for broader intelligence activities.
SpaceX Closes Out 2022 Manifest in Signature Fashion
Sunday’s launch capped a frenetic end to what’s been yet another enormously successful year for SpaceX and its workhorse Falcon 9 vehicle.
CEO Elon Musk’s rocket company coordination multiple missions from both Florida and California throughout December. Prior to Sarah-2, SpaceX launched the NASA-Italian CSG-3 radar mapping satellite from Florida on Dec. 18 along with two Starlink internet satellite missions for its growing broadband megaconstellation.
“Congratulations to SpaceX on executing this Falcon 9 flight and nailing the landing during a busy time amidst the holidays,” said noted space industry observer Tim Dodd, known widely as the Everyday Astronaut.
The final SpaceX mission of the year once again demonstrated the company’s signature booster recovery and reuse that’s key to affordable launch services. Sunday marked the 13th flight for the Falcon 9 first stage, an exceptionally high number for any orbital class rocket.
Such extensive reuse continues bringing down costs to expand commercial and government access to space. And 2023 should allow for even greater launch cadences as SpaceX brings more boosters into rotation from both coasts.
Outlook: SpaceX Positioned to Attempt Record Launch Numbers Next Year
After finishing 2022 with 22 consecutive successful missions, SpaceX looks poised to accelerate launch tempos further in the coming year based on its manifest backlog and expanding facilities.
The company now has three total Falcon 9 launch pads in Florida and California to leverage for higher launch rates. And its next-generation Starship rocket nearing orbital flight debut promises enormous payload capacity advancements once entering service potentially next year.
|2023 SpaceX Launch Forecast
|Falcon 9 missions
|Inaugural Starship orbital test
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in October projected her company could triple orbital launch numbers to a pace of over 100 flights per year within the next five years. Such rates would far surpass any other current or historical rocket operator.
While an ambitious goal reliant on still unproven Starship, SpaceX continues demonstrating more incremental leaps with Falcon 9 for now. The German radar satellite duo delivered safely to orbit Sunday offers the latest exhibit.
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