Falcon (rocket family)

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The Falcon rocket family: from left to right, Falcon 1, Falcon 9 v1.0, three versions of Falcon 9 v1.1, and two versions of Falcon Heavy

The Falcon rocket family is an American family of multi-use rocket launch vehicles developed and operated by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). They are the first orbital launch vehicles to be entirely designed in the 21st century.

The vehicles in this family include the flight-tested Falcon 1 and Falcon 9. The Falcon 1 made its first successful flight on 28 September 2008, after several failures on the initial attempts. The larger Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class Falcon 9 flew successfully into orbit on its maiden launch on 4 June 2010. The Falcon 9 is eventually intended to be a reusable vehicle. SpaceX is currently in production of the first Falcon Heavy launch system. Other designs for boosters with even larger payload lifting capabilities are currently being researched, but not yet confirmed.

Naming[edit]

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, has stated that the Falcon rockets are named after the Millennium Falcon from the Star Wars film series.[1]

Current launch vehicles[edit]

Falcon 9 v1.1[edit]

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft, lifts off during the COTS Demo Flight 1 on 8 December 2010
Main article: Falcon 9 v1.1

On 8 September 2005, SpaceX announced the development of the Falcon 9 rocket, which has nine Merlin engines in its first stage.[2] The design is an EELV-class vehicle, intended to compete with the Delta IV and the Atlas V, along with launchers of other nations as well. Both stages were designed for reuse. A similarly designed Falcon 5 rocket was also envisioned to fit between[citation needed] the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9, but development was dropped to concentrate on the Falcon 9.[2]

The first version of the Falcon 9, Falcon 9 v1.0, was developed in 2005–2010, and flew five orbital missions in 2010–2013. The second version of the launch system—Falcon 9 v1.1—is the current Falcon 9 in service.

Falcon 9 v1.1 was developed in 2010-2013, and made its maiden flight in September 2013. The Falcon 9 v1.1 is a 60 percent heavier rocket with 60 percent more thrust than the v1.0 version of the Falcon 9.[3] It includes realigned first-stage engines[4] and 60 percent longer fuel tanks, making it more susceptible to bending during flight.[3] The engines themselves have been upgraded to the more powerful Merlin 1D. These improvements will increase the payload capability from 9,000 kilograms (20,000 lb) to 13,150 kilograms (28,990 lb).[5]

The stage separation system has been redesigned and reduces the number of attachment points from twelve to three,[3] and the vehicle has upgraded avionics and software as well.[3]

The new first stage will also be used as side boosters on the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.[6]

The company purchased the McGregor, Texas, testing facilities of defunct Beal Aerospace, where it refitted the largest test stand at the facilities for Falcon 9 testing. On 22 November 2008, the stand tested the nine Merlin 1C engines of the Falcon 9, which deliver 350 metric-tons-force (3.4-meganewtons) of thrust, well under the stand's capacity of 1,500 metric-tons-force (15 meganewtons).[7]

The first Falcon 9 vehicle was integrated at Cape Canaveral on 30 December 2008. NASA was planning for a flight to take place in January 2010;[8] however the maiden flight was postponed several times and took place on 4 June 2010.[9] At 2:50pm EST the Falcon 9 rocket successfully reached orbit.

The second flight for the Falcon 9 vehicle was the COTS Demo Flight 1, the first launch under the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract designed to provide "seed money" for development of new boosters.[10] The original NASA contract called for the COTS Demo Flight 1 to occur the second quarter of 2008;[11] this flight was delayed several times, occurring at 15:43 GMT on 8 December 2010.[12] The rocket successfully deployed an operational Dragon spacecraft at 15:53 GMT.[12] Dragon orbited the Earth twice, and then made a controlled reentry burn that put it on target for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.[13] With Dragon's safe recovery, SpaceX became the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; prior to this mission only government agencies had been able to recover orbital spacecraft.[13] The first flight of the Falcon 9 v1.1 was September 29, 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying several payloads including Canada's CASSIOPE technology demonstration satellite.[14] The Falcon 9 v1.1 features stretched first and second stages, and a new octagonal arrangement of the 9 Merlin-1D engines on the first stage (replacing the square pattern of engines in v1.0). SpaceX notes that the Falcon 9 v1.1 is cheaper to manufacture, and longer than v1.0. It also has a larger payload capacity: 13,150 kilograms to low Earth orbit or 4,850 kg to geosynchronous transfer orbit.[14]

Falcon 9 "full thrust"[edit]

Falcon "full thrust" is a new update of the falcon 9 V1.1. It was used the first time on 22 December 2015 for the ORBCOM-2 launch at Cape Canaveral SLC-40 launch pad.

The first stage is upgraded with a much colder LOX tank which allows more of it in the same tank space. The second stage and the interstage are also extended for a bigger fuel tank.

This upgrades bring a 33% increase to the previous rocket performance.[15]

Inactive[edit]

Falcon 1[edit]

The first Falcon 1 at Vandenberg AFB. This vehicle was removed from VAFB due to delays and eventually launched from Kwajalein.
Main article: Falcon 1

The Falcon 1 is a small, partially reusable rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low earth orbit.[16] It also functioned as a testbed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9.[16] Initial Falcon 1 flights were launched from the US government's Reagan Test Site on the island atoll of Kwajalein in the Pacific Ocean, and represented the first attempt to fly a ground-launched rocket to orbit from that site.[17]

On 26 March 2006, the Falcon 1's maiden flight failed only seconds after leaving the pad due to a fuel line rupture.[18][19] After a year, the second flight was launched on 22 March 2007 and it also ended in failure, due to a spin stabilization problem that automatically caused sensors to turn off the Merlin 2nd-stage engine.[17] The third Falcon 1 flight used a new regenerative cooling system for the first-stage Merlin engine, and the engine development was responsible for the almost 17-month flight delay.[20] The new cooling system turned out to be the major reason the mission failed; because the first stage rammed into the second-stage engine bell at staging, due to excess thrust provided by residual propellant left over from the higher-propellant-capacity cooling system.[20] On 28 September 2008, the Falcon 1 succeeded in reaching orbit on its fourth attempt, becoming the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to do so.[21] The Falcon 1 carried its first and only successful commercial payload into orbit on 13 July 2009, on its fifth launch.[22] No launch attempts of the Falcon 1 have been made since 2009, and SpaceX is no longer taking launch reservations for the Falcon 1 in order to concentrate company resources on its larger Falcon 9 launch vehicle and other development projects.

Falcon 1e[edit]

A Falcon 9 v1.0 launches with an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft

The Falcon 1e is an upgraded version of the Falcon 1 with a larger fairing and payload mass, and is 6.1 metres (20 ft) longer than the Falcon 1.[23] By December 2010, Falcon 1e replaced the services of Falcon 1 on the SpaceX product list.[24]

The 1e version has not yet been flown and is not currently scheduled to make a flight. Continued development and use of the Falcon 1/1e have been stagnant while the company focuses on the Falcon 9/Dragon program.[25]

Falcon 9 v1.0[edit]

The first version of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, Falcon 9 v1.0, was developed in 2005–2010, and was launched for the first time in 2010. Falcon 9 v1.0 made five flights in 2010–2013, when it was retired.

Grasshopper[edit]

Grasshopper vehicle in September 2012
Main article: Grasshopper (rocket)

Grasshopper was an experimental technology-demonstrator, suborbital reusable launch vehicle (RLV), a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) rocket.[26] The first VTVL flight test vehicle—Grasshopper, built on a Falcon 9 v1.0 first-stage tank—made a total of eight test flights between September 2012 and October 2013.[27] All eight flights were from the McGregor, Texas test facility.

Grasshopper began flight testing in September 2012 with a brief, three-second hop, followed by a second hop in November 2012 with an 8-second flight that took the testbed approximately 5.4 m (18 ft) off the ground, and a third flight in December 2012 of 29 seconds duration, with extended hover under rocket engine power, in which it ascended to an altitude of 40 m (130 ft) before descending under rocket power to come to a successful vertical landing.[28] Grasshopper made its eighth, and final, test flight on October 7, 2013, flying to an altitude of 744 m (2,441 ft) (0.46 miles) before making its eighth successful vertical landing.[29] The Grasshopper test vehicle is now retired.[27]

Canceled[edit]

Falcon 5[edit]

Main article: Falcon 5

An early five-engine booster stage launch vehicle, the Falcon 5, was in design but its development was stopped in favor of the larger nine-engine Falcon 9.[30] Like the Falcon 9, it was also slated to be human-rated and reusable.[30]

Falcon 9 Air[edit]

Main article: Falcon 9 Air

In December 2011 Stratolaunch Systems announced that it would contract with SpaceX to develop an air-launched, multiple-stage launch vehicle, as a derivative of Falcon 9 technology, called the Falcon 9 Air,[31] as part of the Stratolaunch project.[32] On 27 November 2012 Stratolaunch announced that they would partner with Orbital Sciences Corporation instead of SpaceX, effectively ending development of the Falcon 9 Air.[33]

Under development[edit]

Falcon Heavy[edit]

Main article: Falcon Heavy

SpaceX is building the first vehicle of a Heavy configuration, using a cluster of three Falcon 9 v1.1 first stages with 27 uprated Merlin 1D engines and propellant crossfeed.[34][35]

Falcon 9-R[edit]

A third version of the rocket is in development. The Falcon 9-R, a partially reusable variant of the Falcon 9—with a reusable (RLV) booster stage—is being developed using systems and software tested on the Grasshopper and F9R Dev technology demonstrators, as well as a set of technologies being developed by SpaceX to facilitate rapid reusability of both the first, and in the longer term, second stages.[36] However, plans to reuse the Falcon 9 second-stage booster have been abandoned.[37]

While the differences between the Falcon 9 v1.0 and the Falcon 9 v1.1 were significant, there are a much smaller set of differences between the Falcon 9 v1.1 and the emerging design of the returnable booster for the Falcon 9-R. While no changes in rocket length or thrust are planned, the principal visible change is the presence of extensible landing legs on the lower portion of the first-stage booster in the F9-R.[38] Additional changes are less visible, including changes to the attitude control technology for the rocket and guidance control system software changes to regularly and reliably effect a vertical ground landing.

Competitive position[edit]

SpaceX Falcon rockets are being offered to the launch industry at highly competitive prices, allowing SpaceX to build up a large manifest of over 50 launches by late 2013, with two-thirds of them for commercial customers exclusive of US government flights.[39][40]

In the US launch industry, SpaceX prices its product offerings well below its competition. Nevertheless, "somewhat incongruously, its primary US competitor, United Launch Alliance (ULA), still maintain[ed in early 2013] that it requires a large annual subsidy, which neither SpaceX nor Orbital Sciences receives, in order to remain financially viable, with the reason cited as a lack of market opportunity, a stance which seems to be in conflict with the market itself."[41]

SpaceX launched its first satellite to geostationary orbit in December 2013 (SES-8) and followed that a month later with its second, Thaicom 6, beginning to offer competition to the European and Russian launch providers that had been the major players in the commercial communications satellite market in recent years.[40]

SpaceX prices undercut its major competitors—the Ariane 5 and Proton—in this market,[42] and SpaceX has at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books.[40]

Moreover, SpaceX prices for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are much lower than the projected prices for the new Ariane 5 ME upgrade and its Ariane 6 successor, projected to be available in 2018 and 2021, respectively.[43]

As a result of additional mission requirements for government launches, SpaceX prices US government missions somewhat higher than similar commercial missions, but has noted that even with those added services, Falcon 9 missions contracted to the government are still priced well below US$100 million (even with approximately US$9 million in special security charges for some missions) which is a very competitive price compared to ULA prices for government payloads of the same size.[44]

ULA prices to the US government are nearly $400 million for current launches of Falcon 9- and Falcon Heavy-class payloads.[45]

Launch Vehicle Comparison[edit]

Falcon 1 Falcon 1e Falcon 9 v1.0 Falcon 9 v1.1 Falcon Heavy
Stage 0 2 boosters with
9 × Merlin 1D[A][35]
Stage 1 1 × Merlin 1C[B] 1 × Merlin 1C 9 × Merlin 1C 9 × Merlin 1D 9 × Merlin 1D[35]
Stage 2 1 × Kestrel 1 × Kestrel 1 × Merlin Vacuum 1 × Merlin Vacuum 1 × Merlin Vacuum[46]
Max height (m) 21.3 26.83 54.9[16] 68.4[47] 68.4[35]
Diameter (m) 1.7 1.7 3.6[16] 3.7[47][48] 3.7 x 11.6[35]
Initial thrust (kN) 318 454 4,900[16] 5,885[47] 17,615[35]
Takeoff mass (tonnes) 27.2 38.56 333[16] 506[47] 1,463[35]
Inner fairing diameter (m) 1.5 1.71 3.7 or 5.2[16] 5.2[47][48] 5.2[35]
LEO payload (kg) 570 1,010 10,450[16] 13,150[47] 53,000[35]
GTO payload (kg) 4,540[16] 4,850[47][48] 21,200[35]
Price history
(Mil. USD)
2006: 6.7 [49]
2007: 6.9 [50]
2008: 7.9 [49]
2007: 8.5 [49]
2008: 9.1 [49]
2010: 10.9 [49]
2005: 27 [3.6m fairing to LEO]
          35 [5.2m fairing to LEO][51]
2011: 54 to 59.5[16]
2013: 54[52]-56.5[5] 2011: 80 to 124 [53]
2012: 83 to 128[54]
2013: 77.1 [<6.4 ton to GTO][5]
          135 [>6.4 ton to GTO][5]
Current price (Mil. USD) 61.2 [55] 85 [<6.4mT to GTO] [55]
Success ratio (successful/total) 2/5 5/5[56] 12/13

A Optional propellant crossfeed for increased launch mass capability
B Post 2008. Merlin 1A was used from 2006 till 2007.[57]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  44. ^ Gwynne Shotwell (2014-03-21). Broadcast 2212: Special Edition, interview with Gwynne Shotwell (audio file). The Space Show. Event occurs at 06:00–07:30. 2212. Archived from the original (mp3) on 2014-03-22. Retrieved 2014-03-22. It is more expensive to do these missions; the Air Force asks for more stuff. The missions that we do for NASA under the NLS contract are also more expensive, because NASA asks to do more analysis, they have us provide more data to them, they have folks who reside here at SpaceX, and we need to provide engineering resources to them to respond to their questions. ... the NASA extra stuff is about $10 million; Air Force stuff is about an extra $20 million, and then if there is high security requirements that can add another 8–10 million. But all in, Falcon 9 prices are still well below $100 million, even with all the stuff, which is really quite a competitive price compared to what ULA is offering. 
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External links[edit]