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SpaceX Launches Falcon 9 B1060 For 20th and Final Time Carrying Galileo Nav Sats To Orbit

On April 27, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared into the night sky from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, carrying the Galileo GM25 and FM27 satellites.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Mon Apr 29 2024Written by Zac Aubert

On April 27, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared into the night sky from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, carrying the Galileo GM25 and FM27 satellites.

The launch marked a significant milestone as the European Union's Galileo navigation system expanded its constellation. However, what caught the attention of many was the unusual secrecy surrounding the mission.

The Falcon 9 lifted off at 8:34 pm ET, executing its mission flawlessly. Hours later, the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) confirmed the successful deployment of the satellites into orbit, ensuring their operational status.

In a departure from the norm, SpaceX maintained an unprecedented level of secrecy throughout the launch process. Unlike typical launches, where extensive live coverage is provided, SpaceX remained tight-lipped after the separation of the rocket's stages, concluding its webcast immediately following the confirmation of payload fairing separation. The lack of live video feed and minimal updates from SpaceX added to the mystery surrounding the mission.

While the reason behind the heightened secrecy remains undisclosed, it deviated from the standard protocol observed in previous Galileo satellite launches.

Both European Commission and European Space Agency refrained from publicizing the launch beforehand, and European officials carefully avoided discussing the specifics of the launch vehicle.

The decision to employ the Falcon 9 for this mission stems from Europe's "launcher crisis," as ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher described it. With the retirement of Ariane 5, and no access to Soyuz rockets, plans turned to launching on Ariane 6, but with its delay; Europe faced challenges in deploying Galileo satellites. To address this, the European Commission finalized a deal with SpaceX in November 2023 for two Falcon 9 launches, each carrying two Galileo satellites.

This mission marks the second time European institutional payloads have flown on a Falcon 9 due to the launcher crisis, following the launch of ESA's Euclid space telescope in July 2023.

Additional Galileo satellites are slated for Falcon 9 launches later this year, alongside missions for ESA's EarthCARE Earth science mission and Hera asteroid mission.

For SpaceX, the launch represented the 20th flight of booster 1060, tying the new flight reuse record previously set earlier in the month. However, the demanding trajectory required to deploy the Galileo satellites into medium Earth orbit meant that the booster, could not be recovered.

This marked the end of a remarkable streak of 146 Falcon 9 launches with successful booster landings, underscoring the challenges posed by the mission's requirements.

As SpaceX continues its efforts to maximize the reusability of its Falcon fleet, the company emphasized its commitment to sustainability in space exploration. The successful deployment of the Galileo satellites reaffirmed SpaceX's role as a key player in the global satellite launch market, showcasing its capability to meet the diverse needs of its customers while pushing the boundaries of space access.