Over the weekend, SpaceX conducted its fastest quick fire of rockets from its three Falcon 9 launch sites across the country. The final launch was a mission for Globalstar, however, it wasn’t alone. In total, SpaceX launched five payloads on that mission, but it only talked about one.
Four classified payloads show up on NORAD’s satellite catalog
We stated in our article about the record-breaking series of launches that we would have to wait for reports of more than one satellite being tracked. That’s exactly what has happened. The North American Aerospace Defense Command’s (NORAD) satellite tracker has displayed four more satellites, which would pair up with the claims of Globalstar featuring more than one payload.
The new satellites come with the designations of USA 328-331, which are used for classified military satellites. In addition, they show up with the same launch date as Globalstar FM15, the payload name for the primary mission. This confirms that, yes, classified payloads tagged along without any mention by the Department of Defense or SpaceX, which doesn’t happen often.
The DoD must have wanted to keep the launch of these satellites under wrap as we didn’t get any footage of inside SpaceX’s payload fairings before deployment like we usually do. In fact, the callout for payload fairing deployment wasn’t heard at all during the livestream. We didn’t see any views from the forward-facing camera on the second stage until second engine start two. This could mean the ridealongs were deployed at a lower altitude.
These could be satellites built by SpaceX for the DoD’s Space Development Agency. In 2020, SpaceX was awarded a contract to build missile warning satellites for the SDA. Eight satellites were split between SpaceX and L3Harris and are expected to launch this year. These four could have been SpaceX’s share.
However, keeping these sorts of satellites so secret wouldn’t make sense. Early missle warning systems have been and strategically make sense to be very public. Allowing potential adversaries to know that the system exists would hopefully deter aggression. Also, the eight satellites for SDA were explicitly mentioned to launch in late 2022. DoD contracts rarely run ahead of schedule, but this is SpaceX and anything is possible, especially if these are based on the Starlink satellite bus.
Did SpaceX do anything wrong?
No, nothing is forcing SpaceX to disclose what they launch publicly. Due to the classified nature of the payloads, SpaceX might not have even been allowed to state they were on board. This would explain the lack of feeds of the payload until later in the flight.
Because these are classified, we probably won’t get confirmation from the DoD or SpaceX that these were the satellites from the SDA contract. But sleep well tonight knowing that SpaceX did indeed launch four satellites for the US Government without batting an eye to tell anyone… or I guess don’t sleep well?