Falcon 9 is a two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) medium-lift launch vehicle (MLV) that is designed and manufactured by SpaceX. Unlike most rockets in service, which are expendable launch systems, Falcon 9 is partially reusable, with the first stage capable of re-entering the atmosphere and landing vertically after separating from the second stage. This feat was achieved for the first time on flight 20 in December 2015. Since then, SpaceX has successfully landed boosters over a hundred times, with individual first stages flying as many as thirteen times.
What is so special about Falcon 9?
Falcon 9 can lift payloads of up to 22,800 kilograms (50,300 lb) to low Earth orbit (LEO), 8,300 kg (18,300 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) when expended, and 5,500 kg (12,100 lb) to GTO when the first stage is recovered, in a cargo shroud offering 145 cubic meters of volume. The heaviest GTO payloads flown have been Intelsat 35e with 6,761 kg (14,905 lb), and Telstar 19V with 7,075 kg (15,598 lb). The latter was launched into a lower-energy GTO achieving an apogee well below the geostationary altitude, while the former was launched into an advantageous super-synchronous transfer orbit. In late 2021, a Falcon 9 was used to launch the IXPE probe into equatorial orbit from KSC with a post-launch orbital plane change maneuver.
As of January 2021, Falcon 9 has the most launches among all U.S. rockets currently in operation and is the only U.S. rocket fully certified for transporting humans to the International Space Station, and the only commercial rocket to launch humans to orbit. On 24 January 2021, Falcon 9 set a record for the most satellites launched by a single rocket carrying 143 satellites into orbit.
How many Falcon 9 are there?
Cutting-edge technology makes Falcon 9 the vehicle of choice for commercial and government customers. SpaceX has approximately 40 Falcon 9 missions on the manifest.
Falcon 9 is powered by nine Merlin engines in the first stage and one in the second stage. The nine Merlin engines generate one million pounds of thrust in vacuum. The Merlin engine was developed internally at SpaceX, but draws upon a long heritage of space proven engines. The pintle-style injector at the heart of Merlin was first used in the Apollo program for the lunar module landing engine, one of the most critical phases of the mission.
Propellant is fed via a single-shaft, dual-impeller turbopump operating on a gas generator cycle. The turbopump also provides the high pressure kerosene for the hydraulic actuators, which then recycles into the low-pressure inlet. This design approach eliminates the need for a separate hydraulic power system and means that thrust vector control failure by running out of hydraulic fluid is not possible. A third use of the turbopump is to provide roll control by actuating the turbine exhaust nozzle (on the second-stage engine).
Falcon 9 Launch History
Rockets from the Falcon 9 family have been launched 161 times over 12 years, resulting in 159 full mission successes (98.8%), one partial success (SpaceX CRS-1 delivered its cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), but a secondary payload was stranded in a lower-than-planned orbit), and one full failure (the SpaceX CRS-7 spacecraft was lost in flight in an explosion). Additionally, one rocket and its payload Amos-6 were destroyed before launch in preparation for an on-pad static fire test. The currently active version, Falcon 9 Block 5, has flown 102 missions, all full successes.
The first rocket version Falcon 9 v1.0 was launched five times from June 2010 to March 2013, its successor Falcon 9 v1.1 15 times from September 2013 to January 2016, and the Falcon 9 Full Thrust 138 times from December 2015 to present. The latest Full Thrust variant, Block 5, was introduced in May 2018. While the Block 4 boosters were only flown twice and required several months of refurbishment, Block 5 versions are designed to sustain 10 flights with just some inspections.
The Falcon Heavy derivative consists of a strengthened Falcon 9 first stage as its center core, with two additional Falcon 9 first stages attached and used as boosters. The Falcon Heavy has been launched 3 times. Its first flight was in February 2018, incorporating two refurbished first stages as side boosters, and then again in April and June 2019.
The rocket’s first-stage boosters landed successfully in 124 of 135 attempts (91.9%), with 100 out of 105 (95.2%) for the Falcon 9 Block 5 version. A total of 100 re-flights of first stage boosters have all successfully launched their payloads.
What is SpaceX Falcon 9 record?
SpaceX launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets for the 13th time today (June 17), setting a new reuse record.
The two-stage Falcon 9 lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida today at 12:09 p.m. EDT (1609 GMT), carrying 53 of SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites to orbit. It was the first of three rocket launches in three days from three different pads that SpaceX plans to pull off.
The 53 satellites were deployed into low Earth orbit about 15.5 minutes after launch, as planned. But there was action before then as well: About 8.5 minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9‘s first stage came down to Earth for a vertical landing on the SpaceX droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rests on the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas shortly after landing for the 13th time, on June 17, 2022. A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage rests on the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas shortly after landing for the record-setting 13th time, on June 17, 2022.
It was the 13th launch and landing for this Falcon 9 first stage, setting a new SpaceX reuse record. The booster previously helped loft a GPS satellite, a Turkish communications satellite, a variety of spacecraft on the Transporter 2 “rideshare” mission and nine Starlink batches, according to a SpaceX mission description(opens in new tab).
Such extensive reflight is a big priority for SpaceX Falcon 9 and its billionaire founder and CEO, Elon Musk. Musk has repeatedly said that rapid and complete reuse is the key breakthrough that will allow humanity to settle Mars and achieve a variety of other ambitious spaceflight feats.