It was a busy weekend for SpaceX, with the private space company launching three of its Falcon 9 rockets into orbit over a three-day period. SpaceX’s final launch may even have carried a classified government payload in addition to the launch of a spare satellite for low Earth orbit operator Globalstar.
Consecutive launches spear Friday from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, where a Falcon 9 rocket carried 53 Starink satellites in 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 spear a radar imaging satellite for the German army. 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 provide images of the Earth’s surface at any time of the day, regardless of weather conditions.
On Sunday, SpaceX made its finale launch of the weekend. Its third Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The company has identified a payload on the rocket, Globalstar FM15, a spare satellite for low-speed telephone and data communications company Globalstar.
However, several reports suggest that this lone satellite was not the only one hitchhiking in low Earth orbit. Those who observed the launch and deployment of the Globalstar payload noticed that the rocket sported three unusual burns and landed on the Spaceport Drone autonomous craft, which is used when the rocket carries heavier payloads, although the Globalstar payload would have been light enough to land on the launch pad, according to SpaceNews.
Additionally, SpaceX provided a video deployment of the payload in orbit, which showed that it had deployed almost two hours after liftoff. The video showed what could have been a payload adapter on the rocket’s second stage, suggesting that the rocket may have deployed another payload after its first burn. Mysterious circumstances gave credence to rumors suggesting that SpaceX had launched a classified US government payload. SpaceX did not confirm 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 plans to go even bigger for the rest of the year. After pass an environmental assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration for a proposed site expansion in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that the Starship heavy rocket would be ready for its first orbital launch in July. Musk hopes Starship will carry the company’s next-gen Starlink satellites in orbit, causing some astronomers to worry about their potential interference in observations of the cosmos. SpaceX also recently fired several employees for criticizing Musk’s behavior.