Static SpaceX fires Falcon 9 rocket for Italian radar satellite launch
SpaceX successfully tested a Falcon 9 rocket tasked with launching Italy’s CSG-2 Earth observation satellite as early as 6:11 p.m. EST (23:11 UTC) on Thursday, January 27.
For any member state of the European Space Agency (ESA), launching a spacecraft on a non-European rocket is a rarity. Given that the Ariane and Vega rockets that ESA helped fund and European countries are helping to build are simply no longer able to consistently compete with SpaceX’s Falcon prices, Arianespace and ESA have increasingly most wanted multi-year political mandates this To obligate Member States to agree to launch all possible payloads on Ariane, Vega or Soyuz rockets. It was only after Vega suffered several launch failures and its Vega C upgrade suffered several delays that Italy was apparently able to consider launch alternatives for CSG-2 instead of delaying its already delayed launch by a year or more.
Designed to monitor the Earth’s surface for a variety of purposes using a technology known as Scanning Aperture Radar (SAR), the approximately 2,200 kilograms (~4,900 lb) satellite is heading into a circular polar orbit at 620 kilometers (385 mi) above the planet’s surface. . Designed to launch on the mostly Italian-built Vega C rocket, which itself is designed to launch up to 2,300kg into low Earth orbit, CSG-2 will instead launch on SpaceX’s much larger Falcon 9.
A few years ago, a Falcon 9 launch with a flight-proven booster fetched a base price of around $50 million for at least 12 tons (~27,000 lbs) to LEO. According to manufacturer Avio, Vega C is designed to launch 2.3 tons (~5100 lbs) to LEO for around $40 million. Since SpaceX recently billed NASA $50 million to launch the agency’s IXPE X-ray observatory with drone craft landing for the mission’s Falcon 9 booster, it’s plausible that Italy would pay SpaceX less than $50 million to launch CSG-2, which is light enough and headed to a simple enough orbit to allow her Falcon 9 booster to return to land for recovery.
According to CEO Elon Musk, the complexity of landing a drone and recovering a booster at sea adds significant cost (perhaps up to several hundred thousand dollars) to any Falcon launch that requires it. As such, Falcon 9’s Return to Launch Site Landing (RTLS) alone could shave approximately $500,000 off the CSG-2 launch price, making it even more competitive against Vega.
Thanks to the launch window that SpaceX and ASI have settled on, the launch of CSG-2 could be quite spectacular – and for more than the crowd-favorite Falcon 9 RTLS landing, it will include. Scheduled to take off just 15 minutes after sunset, the twilight sky (clouds permitting) will be dark blue as the Falcon 9 lifts off and climbs into the sun, backlit by the exhaust plumes from both stages.
The mission’s RTLS landing will only enhance the effect by adding the interaction of the two-stage exhaust plumes as CSG-2’s Falcon 9 booster turns around and returns to the Florida coast. The sun can even backlight the exhaust of the booster during a re-entry burn performed minutes after the stages separate, which will hopefully result in a spectacular light show that lasts several minutes and is visible hundreds of miles in all directions.