It was a busy weekend for SpaceX, with the private space company launching three of its Falcon 9 rockets into orbit over a period of three days. SpaceX’s final launch may even have been carrying a classified government payload in addition to launching a spare satellite for low-earth-orbit operator Globalstar.
The back-to-back launches kicked off Friday from Kennedy Space Centre’s Launch Complex 39A, where a Falcon 9 rocket carried 53 Starlink satellites to orbit as part of the company’s growing broadband internet megaconstellation. The rocket’s first stage booster set a new record for SpaceX, marking the 13th flight and landing for the reusable booster.
The next day, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launched a radar imaging satellite for the German military. SaRah-1, built by Airbus, launched from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California to replace the existing SAR-Lupe system. The satellite is designed to deliver images of Earth’s surface at any time of day, regardless of weather conditions.
Things started to get a little bit vague for the final launch. On Sunday, SpaceX launched its third Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The company identified one payload on the rocket, Globalstar FM15, a spare satellite for phone and low-speed data communications company Globalstar. However, several reports suggest that this lone satellite wasn’t the only one hitching a ride to low-earth orbit. Those observing the launch and deployment of the Globalstar payload noticed that the rocket had three unusual burns and landed on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship, which is used when the rocket is carrying heavier payloads, although the Globalstar payload would have been light enough for it to land back on the launch pad, according to Space News. Additionally, SpaceX provided a video of the payload deployment to orbit, which showed that it had deployed nearly two hours after liftoff. The video showed what may have been a payload adaptor on the rocket’s second stage, suggesting that the rocket may have deployed another payload after its first burn. The mysterious circumstances gave credence to rumours suggesting that SpaceX launched a U.S. classified government payload. SpaceX has not confirmed the second payload and did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Sunday’s launch marked SpaceX’s 26th launch of 2022, and the company is planning to go even bigger for the rest of the year. After passing an environment assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration for a proposed site expansion in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that heavy rocket Starship would be ready for its first orbital launch in July. Musk is hoping that Starship will be transporting the company’s next-generation Starlink satellites to orbit, which has some astronomers worried over their potential interference in observations of the cosmos. SpaceX has also recently fired several employees over criticism of Musk’s behaviour, with the intent of focusing on the company’s goal of getting to Mars.