SpaceX completes 35th Falcon 9 launch in 33 weeks

SpaceX has successfully launched the SES-22 communications satellite to a geostationary transfer orbit, ending the first half of 2022 with 27 orbital launches under its belt.

Perhaps more importantly, SES-22 was also SpaceX’s 35th launch since its last multi-week launch hiatus, which ended 33 weeks ago. SpaceX, in other words, has just a third of the way to go to achieve a running average of one launch per week over a 12-month period – not CEO Elon Musk’s exact goal but equally impressive.

After a one or two-day delay, Falcon 9 lifted off without issue from SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) LC-40 pad at 5:04 pm EDT. Flying for the second time, booster B1073 carried the SES-22 satellite, payload fairing, and a roughly 100-ton (~220,000 lb) Falcon upper stage most of the way out of Earth’s atmosphere before separating, navigating back to Earth, and landing aboard drone ship A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG) some 666 kilometers (~413 mi) off the coast of Florida. Before touchdown, B1073 reached a maximum speed of 2.25 kilometers per second (Mach ~6.6 or 5000 mph) and coasted to an apogee of 120 kilometers (~75 mi).

Falcon 9’s expendable upper stage performed as expected and propelled SES-22 into a temporary parking orbit before reigniting to boost the satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit, where the two parted ways. The upper stage will likely perform a third and final burn to lower its periapsis, ensuring it burns up in Earth’s atmosphere instead of becoming space debris. SES-22 is expected to take just one month to finish raising and circularizing its orbit, after which it will begin providing US customers satellite TV and other communications services in August.

SES-22 is just the first of several new satellites SES intends to launch this year, all of which are meant clear a specific section of radio spectrum that ground-based 5G networks will benefit more from. The FCC is paying SES and several other providers billions of dollars to free up that spectrum. Following SES-22, SES intends to launch another two pairs of satellites – SES-18/19 and SES-20/21 – on a Falcon 9 and Atlas V rocket before the end of 2022, though delays are likely.

SES-22 ascends to space. (Richard Angle)

According to Spaceflight Now, a ULA Atlas V rocket could launch the Boeing-built SES-20 and SES-21 satellites as early as late August or September, while a Falcon 9 rocket could launch another pair of Northrop Grumman-built SES-18 and SES-19 satellites “around the end of the year.”

SES-18/19 is just one of dozens of additional SpaceX Falcon launches planned for the second half of 2022. NextSpaceflight and several other unofficial manifests indicate that SpaceX has 30-35 launches nominally scheduled before the end of 2022, including at least 10 Starlink missions. In the first half of the year, SpaceX has managed 27 launches – 15 Starlink missions and 12 commercial missions. While that leaves SpaceX firmly on track to accomplish his initial goal of an average of one launch per week this year, 30-35 launches in H2 would align with Musk’s updated target of 60 launches in 2022.

Eric Ralph: Eric Ralph is Teslarati's senior spaceflight reporter and has been covering the industry in some capacity for almost half a decade, largely spurred in 2016 by a trip to Mexico to watch Elon Musk reveal SpaceX's plans for Mars in person. Aside from spreading interest and excitement about spaceflight far and wide, his primary goal is to cover humanity's ongoing efforts to expand beyond Earth to the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere.
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