SpaceX’s Best Hits: 2022 Saw Stunning Visuals Of Rockets Separating Mid Air At 1,000 Km/h+

Ramish Zafar
Falcon 9 first stage engine re ignite December 8 2022
The plume from the Falcon 9 first stage appears to create a bubble around it and the second stage. Image: SpaceX

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With 2022 coming to an end, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) has topped the year with a record number of launches. Statistics show that SpaceX alone nearly matched China's launch cadence, and with yesterday's Falcon 9 launch another success, the rocket is now the world record holder for the most successful launches of a single lineup.

2022 also saw SpaceX provide the best views of its rocket launches, with the ground camera often tracking the Falcon 9 separating mid-air from the second stage and then firing its reaction control thrusters to reorient itself for landing. It was also the first time the Falcon Heavy lifted off to the skies in a couple of years, as it launched a satellite for the Space Force.

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After yesterday's launch, which was the first time that a Falcon 9 or SpaceX targeted a retrograde low Eart orbit (LEO). These orbits see their satellite or spacecraft move in the opposite direction to the rotation of the planet or celestial body that they are moving around. The launch was for an Israeli satellite firm that launched an intelligence-gathering satellite.

Throughout the year, the Falcon 9 did not disappoint when providing stunning visuals during the launch. One of the first launches, which might have the best imagery to date, was of the COSMO-SkyMed earth observation satellite. This launch saw the ground camera track the Falcon 9 and the second state through the stage separation, resulting in all three components of the rocket – its first stage, the second stage, and the fairings – visible in mid-air as they separated from each other.

The first (left) and second (right) stages of Falcon 9 after separating during the COSMO SkyMed launch. The white plumes are from the first stage's cold gas thrusters, which fire at pre-determined times for reorientation before its primary engines reignite. Image: SpaceX/YouTube

The next launch with amazing visuals came in July when SpaceX conducted a mission for its Starlink satellite internet constellation. This launch took place from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Base, and it saw the company reuse a Falco 9 booster for the 13th time to launch yet another batch of the Low Earth satellites.

Courtesy of the dense and humid air at the time of launch, a large vapor cone formed around the Falcon 9's second stage as the rocket traveled at more than a thousand kilometers per hour and approached the point where it would experience the highest stress during launch.

The vapor cone completely engulfs the rocket's payload fairing as it gains speed during a Starlink launch in July this year. Image: SpaceX

Within a month, SpaceX would be back with another batch of Starlink satellites. As of today, the company is operated more than 3,000 satellites in the constellation, making Starlink the largest network of its kind and another record for SpaceX. The latest Starlink launches are aimed at filling the gaps in the orbital shells and improving coverage speed for users in the densest areas.

The Starlink launch in mid-August took place from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it was Starlink's 55th launch to date back then and SpaceX's 35th overall mission in 2022. This launch saw the rocket blow out massive smoke rings clearly visible in the backdrop of the night sky.

A clear smoke ring is visible as Falcon 9 races to orbit faster than the speed of sound. Image: SpaceX/YouTube

After the August launch, the next one on our list is the Falcon Heavy's first mission in three years which lifted off in November. During this period, SpaceX had already launched another 14 missions, and the Falcon Heavy marked the 50th launch of 2022. The Falcon Heavy is SpaceX's largest operational rocket and one of the largest in the U.S. as well.

It uses three boosters for a total of 27 first-stage Merlin engines. One of these is the primary booster that is connected to the second stage, and the other two are strapped to the sides. During the flight, the side boosters separate when they are not needed, and the November launch saw them flawlessly separate while the rocket was traveling at a whopping 5,785 kilometers per hour.

The moment of truth as the Falcon Heavy's side boosters separate. Image: SpaceX

These visuals are hard to beat, but SpaceX would end up topping them with just five launches earlier this month as it launched rival firm OneWeb's internet satellites from the Kennedy Space Center. This mission provided perhaps some of the most remarkable Falcon 9 visuals in 2022, as throughout liftoff, stage separation, and landing, viewers were treated with unique footage.

During liftoff, the sunset made the rocket glow orange, but the best would come later as the first and second stages separated from each other. Footage showed the two racing away from each other while surrounded by the plume of the first stage. Later on, still, the first stage would steal the show, as its reaction control thrusters rapidly fired their cold gas thrusters to orient the rocket for a land landing.

The plume from Falcon 9 first stage appears to create a bubble around it and the second stage. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX's next launch will take place on January third, and for the first mission of 2023, the company will launch 114 different payloads as part of a rideshare mission. January looks to be a busy month for the company, with ten planned missions so far, according to unconfirmed estimates. To top off 2022's best launches, here's another video that shows an October launch for Intelsat as captured from inside an airplane cockpit:

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