|Function||Orbital launch vehicle|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Cost per launch||FT: $62M|
|Diameter||3.7 m (12 ft)|
|Payload to LEO|
|Partial failures||1 (v1.0)|
|Landings||7 / 12 attempts|
|Fuel||LOX / RP-1|
|Fuel||LOX / RP-1|
Falcon 9 is a family of two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles, named for its use of nine first-stage engines, designed and manufactured by SpaceX. The Falcon 9 versions are the Falcon 9 v1.0 (retired), Falcon 9 v1.1 (retired), and the current Falcon 9 Full Thrust, a partially-reusable launch system. Both stages are powered by rocket engines that burn liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellants. The first stage is designed to be reusable, while the second stage is not. The Falcon 9 versions are in the medium-lift to heavy-lift range of launch systems. The current Falcon 9 ("Full Thrust") can lift payloads of up to 22,800 kilograms (50,300 lb) to low Earth orbit, and up to 8,300 kilograms (18,300 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit.
The Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule combination won a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA in 2008 to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The first commercial resupply mission to the ISS launched in October 2012. The initial version 1.0 design made five flights before it was retired in 2013. The version 1.1 design made a total of 15 flights beginning in 2013 before it was retired in January 2016.
SpaceX has been flying an improved version with 30 percent higher performance —Falcon 9 Full Thrust—since December 2015 on the 20th Falcon 9 launch. This followed the 2013 upgrade which was 60 percent heavier —Falcon 9 v1.1—that flew from September 2013 on the 6th Falcon 9 launch, through January 2016 on the 21st Falcon 9 launch. Falcon 9 Full Thrust will be the base for the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. SpaceX intends to complete testing in order to achieve certification for the Falcon 9 to be human-rated for transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS as part of a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract, also using the Full Thrust version. Elon Musk announced that there will be a final upgrade to the Falcon 9, Falcon 9 Block 5 (previously known unofficially as Falcon 9 1.3). This upgrade will mainly increase the thrust on the engines to the maximum they can produce and will make some improvements to the landing legs. There will also be some minor improvements to help recovery and reuse, among other smaller things.
- 1 Development and production
- 2 Launcher versions
- 3 Features
- 4 Launch sites
- 5 Launch prices
- 6 Launch history
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Development and production
While SpaceX spent its own money to develop the previous launcher, Falcon 1, development of the Falcon 9 was accelerated by the provision of some development funding plus the purchase of several demonstration flights by NASA. This started with seed money from the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program in 2006. The specifics include that the contract form was that of a Space Act Agreement (SAA) "to develop and demonstrate commercial orbital transportation service" including the purchase of three demonstration flights. The overall contract award was US$278 million to provide development funding for Dragon, Falcon 9, plus demonstration launches of Falcon 9 with Dragon. In 2011 additional milestones were added to the contract bringing the total contract value to US$396 million.
NASA later became an anchor tenant for the vehicle when, in 2008, they contracted to purchase 12 Commercial Resupply Services launches—launches that would occur only after the initial COTS demonstration missions were completed and deemed to be successful—to the International Space Station. The delivery contract, worth US$1.6 billion, was for a minimum of 12 missions to carry supplies to and from the station.
Musk has repeatedly said that, without the NASA money, development would have taken longer. SpaceX's statement about the NASA contract was:
SpaceX has only come this far by building upon the incredible achievements of NASA, having NASA as an anchor tenant for launch, and receiving expert advice and mentorship throughout the development process. SpaceX would like to extend a special thanks to the NASA COTS office for their continued support and guidance throughout this process. The COTS program has demonstrated the power of a true private/public partnership and we look forward to the exciting endeavors our team will accomplish in the future.
In 2011, SpaceX estimated that Falcon 9 v1.0 development costs were on the order of $300 million. NASA evaluated that development costs would have been $3.6 billion if a traditional cost-plus contract approach had been used.
In 2014, SpaceX released total combined development costs for both the Falcon 9 and the Dragon capsule. NASA provided US$396 million while SpaceX provided over US$450 million to fund rocket and capsule development efforts.
Development, production, and testing history
SpaceX originally intended to follow its light Falcon 1 launch vehicle with an intermediate capacity vehicle, the Falcon 5. In 2005, SpaceX announced it was instead proceeding with development of the Falcon 9, a "fully reusable heavy lift launch vehicle", and had already secured a government customer. The Falcon 9 was described as being capable of launching approximately 9,500 kg (21,000 lb) to low Earth orbit, and was projected to be priced at $27 million per flight with a 3.7 m (12 ft) fairing and $35 million with a 5.2 m (17 ft) fairing. SpaceX also announced development of a heavy version of the Falcon 9 with a payload capacity of approximately 25,000 kg (55,000 lb). The Falcon 9 was intended to enable launches to LEO, GTO, as well as both crew and cargo vehicles to the ISS.
The original NASA COTS contract called for the first demonstration flight of Falcon in September 2008, and completion of all three demonstration missions by September 2009. In February 2008, the plan for the first Falcon 9/Dragon COTS Demo flight was delayed by six months to late in the first quarter of 2009. According to Elon Musk, the complexity of the development work and the regulatory requirements for launching from Cape Canaveral contributed to the delay.
The first multi-engine test (with two engines connected to the first stage, firing simultaneously) was successfully completed in January 2008, with successive tests leading to the full Falcon 9 complement of nine engines test fired for a full mission length (178 seconds) of the first stage on November 22, 2008. In October 2009, the first flight-ready first stage had a successful all-engine test fire at the company's test stand in McGregor, Texas. In November 2009 SpaceX conducted the initial second stage test firing lasting forty seconds. This test succeeded without aborts or recycles. On January 2, 2010, a full-duration (329 seconds) orbit-insertion firing of the Falcon 9 second stage was conducted at the McGregor test site. The full stack arrived at the launch site for integration at the beginning of February 2010, and SpaceX initially scheduled a launch date of March 22, 2010, though they estimated anywhere between one and three months for integration and testing.
On February 25, 2010, SpaceX's first flight stack was set vertical at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral, and on March 9, SpaceX performed a static fire test, where the first stage was to be fired without taking off. The test aborted at T-2 seconds due to a failure in the system designed to pump high-pressure helium from the launch pad into the first stage turbopumps, which would get them spinning in preparation for launch. Subsequent review showed that the failure occurred when a valve did not receive a command to open. As the problem was with the pad and not with the rocket itself, it didn't occur at the McGregor test site, which did not have the same valve setup. Some fire and smoke were seen at the base of the rocket, leading to speculation of an engine fire. However, the fire and smoke were the result of normal burnoff from the liquid oxygen and fuel mix present in the system prior to launch, and no damage was sustained by the vehicle or the test pad. All vehicle systems leading up to the abort performed as expected, and no additional issues were noted that needed addressing. A subsequent test on March 13 was successful in firing the nine first-stage engines for 3.5 seconds.
The first flight was delayed from March 2010 to June due to review of the Falcon 9 flight termination system by the Air Force. The first launch attempt occurred at 1:30 pm EDT on Friday, June 4, 2010 (1730 UTC). The launch was aborted shortly after ignition, and the rocket successfully went through a failsafe abort. Ground crews were able to recycle the rocket, and successfully launched it at 2:45 pm EDT (1845 UTC) the same day.
The second Falcon 9 launch, and first COTS demo flight, lifted off on December 8, 2010.
In December 2010, the SpaceX production line was manufacturing one Falcon 9 (and Dragon spacecraft) every three months, with a plan to double the rate to one every six weeks. By September 2013, SpaceX total manufacturing space had increased to nearly 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) and the factory had been configured to achieve a maximum production rate of 40 rocket cores per year. The factory was producing one Falcon 9 vehicle per month as of November 2013. The company planned to increase to 18 vehicles per year in mid-2014, 24 per year by the end of 2014, and 40 rocket cores per year by the end of 2015.
These production rates were not achieved by February 2016 as previously planned; the company indicated that production rate for Falcon 9 cores had only recently increased to 18 per year, and the number of first stage cores that can be assembled at one time had doubled from three to six. The production rate was expected to grow to 30 cores per year by the end of 2016. but as of August 2016[update] SpaceX is working towards a production capacity of 40 cores per year, the capacity the factory was configured for in 2013.
The original Falcon 9 flew five successful orbital launches in 2010–2013. The much larger Falcon 9 v1.1 made its first flight on September 29, 2013. The demonstration mission carried a very small 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) primary payload, the CASSIOPE satellite, that was manifested at a "cut rate price" due to the demo mission nature of the flight. Larger payloads followed for v1.1 with the launch of the large SES-8 and Thaicom communications satellites, each inserted successfully into GTO. Both Falcon 9 v1.0 and Falcon 9 v1.1 are expendable launch vehicles (ELVs). The third—and current—version of the Falcon 9 is the Falcon 9 Full Thrust which made its first flight in December 2015 and has made eight additional flights during the first eight months of 2016.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust version is reusable. SpaceX called the first few landing attempts "experimental" until the JCSAT-16 mission. Initial low-velocity low-altitude atmospheric testing was conducted on the Grasshopper experimental technology-demonstrator reusable launch vehicle (RLV) which made eight test flights in 2012 and 2013, and five flights of a second RLV test vehicle—F9R Dev1—were made during 2014.
Common design elements
The Falcon 9 tank walls and domes are made from aluminum lithium alloy. SpaceX uses an all friction-stir welded tank, the highest strength and most reliable welding technique available. The second stage tank of a Falcon 9 is simply a shorter version of the first stage tank and uses most of the same tooling, material and manufacturing techniques, reducing production costs.
SpaceX uses multiple redundant flight computers in a fault-tolerant design. Each Merlin rocket engine is controlled by three voting computers, each of which has two physical processors that constantly check each other. The software runs on Linux and is written in C++. For flexibility, commercial off-the-shelf parts and system-wide radiation-tolerant design are used instead of rad-hardened parts. Each stage has stage-level flight computers, in addition to the Merlin-specific engine controllers, of the same fault-tolerant triad design to handle stage control functions.
The Falcon 9 interstage, which connects the upper and lower stage for Falcon 9, is a carbon-fiber aluminum-core composite structure. Reusable separation collets and a pneumatic pusher system separate the stages. The original design stage separation system had twelve attachment points, which was reduced to just three in the v1.1 launcher.
Falcon 9 v1.0
The first version of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, Falcon 9 v1.0, is an expendable launch vehicle (ELV) that was developed in 2005–2010, and was launched for the first time in 2010. Falcon 9 v1.0 made five flights in 2010–2013, after which it was retired.
The Falcon 9 v1.0 first stage was powered by nine SpaceX Merlin 1C rocket engines arranged in a 3×3 pattern. Each of these engines had a sea-level thrust of 556 kilonewtons (125,000 lbf) for a total thrust on liftoff of about 5,000 kilonewtons (1,100,000 lbf). The Falcon 9 v1.0 second stage was powered by a single Merlin 1C engine modified for vacuum operation, with an expansion ratio of 117:1 and a nominal burn time of 345 seconds.
Gaseous N2 thrusters were used on the Falcon 9 v1.0 second-stage as a reaction control system. The thrusters are used to hold a stable attitude for payload separation or, as a non-standard service, could have been used to spin up the stage and payload to a maximum of 5 rotations per minute (RPM).[needs update]
SpaceX expressed hopes initially that both stages would eventually be reusable. But early results from adding lightweight thermal protection system (TPS) capability to the booster stage and using parachute recovery were not successful, leading to abandonment of that approach and the initiation of a new design. In 2011, SpaceX began a formal and funded development program for a reusable Falcon 9 second stage, with the early program focus however on return of the first stage. However, by late 2014, SpaceX had apparently abandoned plans for recovering and reusing the second stage.
Falcon 9 v1.1
The Falcon 9 v1.1 ELV is a 60 percent heavier rocket with 60 percent more thrust than the v1.0 version of the Falcon 9. It includes realigned first-stage engines and 60 percent longer fuel tanks, making it more susceptible to bending during flight. Development testing of the v1.1 first stage was completed in July 2013. The Falcon 9 v1.1, first launched on September 29, 2013, uses a longer first stage powered by nine Merlin 1D engines arranged in an "octagonal" pattern, that SpaceX calls Octaweb. This is designed to simplify and streamline the manufacturing process.
The v1.1 first stage has a total sea-level thrust at liftoff of 5,885 kilonewtons (1,323,000 lbf), with the nine engines burning for a nominal 180 seconds, while stage thrust rises to 6,672 kilonewtons (1,500,000 lbf) as the booster climbs out of the atmosphere. The engines have been upgraded to the more powerful Merlin 1D. These improvements increased the payload capability from 9,000 kilograms (20,000 lb) to 13,150 kilograms (28,990 lb). The stage separation system has been redesigned and reduces the number of attachment points from twelve to three, and the vehicle has upgraded avionics and software as well. The new first stage will also be used as side boosters on the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has stated the Falcon 9 v1.1 has about 30 percent more payload capacity than published on its standard price list, the extra margin reserved for returning of stages via powered re-entry. Though SpaceX has signed agreements with SES for two launches of satellites up to 5,330 kilograms (11,750 lb), exceeding the price list offering of 4,850 kilograms (10,690 lb) by approximately 10 percent, these satellites will be dropped off in a sub-GTO trajectory and subsequently use on board propellant to raise their orbits.
Following the September 2013 launch, the second stage igniter propellant lines were insulated to better support in-space restart following long coast phases for orbital trajectory maneuvers. Further improvements were planned for mid-2015 including uprated engine thrust, increased propellant capacity by deep chilling the propellant and propellant tank volume increase.
The sixth flight (CASSIOPE, 2013) was the first launch of the Falcon 9 configured with a jettisonable payload fairing, which introduced an additional separation event – a risky operation that has doomed many previous government and commercial launch missions, including the 2009 Orbiting Carbon Observatory and 2011 Glory satellite, both on Taurus rockets.
Fairing design was done by SpaceX, with production of the 13 m (43 ft)-long, 5.2 m (17 ft)-diameter payload fairing done in Hawthorne, California at the SpaceX rocket factory. Since the first five Falcon 9 launches had a capsule and did not carry a large satellite, no fairing was required on those flights. It was required on the CASSIOPE flight, as with most satellites, in order to protect the payload during launch. Testing of the new fairing design was completed at NASA's Plum Brook Station test facility in spring 2013 where the acoustic shock and mechanical vibration of launch, plus electromagnetic static discharge conditions, were simulated on a full-size fairing test article in a very large vacuum chamber. SpaceX paid NASA US$581,300 to lease test time in the $150 million NASA simulation chamber facility. The fairing separated without incident during the launch of CASSIOPE.
Payload fairings have survived descent and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. In June 2015, wreckage of an unidentified Falcon 9 launch vehicle was found off the coast of The Bahamas, which was confirmed by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to be a component of the payload fairing that washed ashore. Musk also noted the concept of fairing reusability in a statement: "This is helpful for figuring out fairing reusability."
Falcon 9 Full Thrust
The "Full Thrust upgrade" version—the third major version of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle following the Falcon 9 v1.0 (launched 2010–2013) and the Falcon 9 v1.1 (launched 2013–January 2016)—has cryogenic cooling of propellant to increase density allowing more thrust, improved stage separation system, stretched upper stage that can hold additional propellant, and strengthened struts for holding helium bottles believed to have been involved with the failure of flight 19.
SpaceX pricing and payload specifications published for the non-reusable Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket as of March 2014[update] actually included about 30 percent more performance than the published price list indicated; the additional performance was reserved for SpaceX to do reusability testing with the Falcon 9 v1.1 while still achieving the specified payloads for customers. Many engineering changes to support reusability and recovery of the first stage had been made on the v1.1 version and testing was successful, with SpaceX having room to increase the payload performance for the Full Thrust version, or decrease launch price, or both.
SpaceX previously referred to a Falcon 9-R that was less a version of the rocket and more an aspiration of where development should be heading. As early as 2009 Elon Musk indicated a desire to make the Falcon 9 the first fully reusable launch vehicle. The latest version of the rocket has a reusable first stage after successful testing in December 2015. However, plans to reuse the Falcon 9 second-stage booster have been abandoned as the weight of a heat shield and other equipment would impinge on payload too much for this to be economically feasible for this rocket. The reusable booster stage was 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.
Falcon 9 Block 5
On October 23, 2016, Musk described a Falcon 9 "Block 5"[clarification needed] version that would have "a lot of minor refinements that collectively are important, but uprated thrust and improved legs are the most significant." On January 21, 2017 Musk added that the Block 5 version "[s]ignificantly improves performance & ease of reusability". He described this version as the "final" version of the rocket. Block 5 is expected to start production in early 2017 with the initial flight in the second or the third quarter of 2017.
|Version||Falcon 9 v1.0 (retired)||Falcon 9 v1.1 (retired)||Falcon 9 Full Thrust (active)||Falcon 9 Block 5 (in development)|
|Stage 1||9 × Merlin 1C||9 × Merlin 1D||9 × Merlin 1D (upgraded)||9 × Merlin 1D (further upgraded)|
|Stage 2||1 × Merlin 1C Vacuum||1 × Merlin 1D Vacuum||1 × Merlin 1D Vacuum||1 × Merlin 1D Vacuum|
|Max. height (m)||53||68.4||70||Currently unknown; most likely 70|
|Initial thrust (kN)||3,807||5,885||6,804||8,451|
|Takeoff mass (tonnes)||318||506||549||Currently unknown|
|Fairing diameter (m)||N/A[b]||5.2||5.2||5.2|
|Payload to LEO (kg)||8,500–9,000 (launch at Cape Canaveral)||13,150 (from Cape Canaveral)||
|Payload to GTO (kg)||3,400||4,850||Currently unknown|
- One rocket and payload were destroyed before launch in preparation for static fire.
- The Falcon 9 v1.0 only launched the Dragon spacecraft; it never launched with the clam-shell payload fairing.
- On SpaceX CRS-1, the primary payload, Dragon, was successful. A secondary payload was placed in an incorrect orbit because of a changed flight profile due to the malfunction and shut-down of a single first-stage engine. Likely enough fuel and oxidizer remained on the second stage for orbital insertion, but not enough to be within NASA safety margins for the protection of the International Space Station.
SpaceX has predicted that its launches will have high reliability based on the philosophy that "through simplicity, reliability and low cost can go hand-in-hand", but this remains to be shown. As a comparison, the Russian Soyuz series has more than 1,700 launches to its credit, far more than any other rocket with a success rate of 97%. 75% of current launch vehicles have had at least one failure in the first three flights. As of January 2017[update], Falcon 9 has achieved 29 out of 31 primary missions, with one rocket destroyed in flight and one on the launch pad during fueling for an engine test, yielding a success rate of 94%.
As with the company's smaller Falcon 1 vehicle, Falcon 9's launch sequence includes a hold-down feature that allows full engine ignition and systems check before liftoff. After first-stage engine start, the launcher is held down and not released for flight until all propulsion and vehicle systems are confirmed to be operating normally. Similar hold-down systems have been used on other launch vehicles such as the Saturn V and Space Shuttle. An automatic safe shut-down and unloading of propellant occurs if any abnormal conditions are detected. Prior to the launch date, SpaceX always completes a test of the Falcon 9 culminating in a firing of the first stage's Merlin 1D engines for three-and-a-half seconds to verify performance.
Like the Saturn rocket series from the Apollo program, the presence of multiple first-stage engines allow for mission completion even if one of the first-stage engines fails during flight. Detailed descriptions of several aspects of destructive engine failure modes and designed-in engine-out capabilities were made public by SpaceX in a 2007 "update" that was publicly released.
SpaceX emphasized over several years that the Falcon 9 first stage is designed for engine out capability. The SpaceX CRS-1 mission in October 2012 was a partial success after an engine failure in the first stage: engine no. 1 experienced a loss of pressure at 79 seconds, and then shut down. To compensate for the resulting loss of acceleration, the first stage had to burn 28 seconds longer than planned, and the second stage had to burn an extra 15 seconds. That extra burn time of the second stage reduced its fuel reserves, so that the likelihood that there was sufficient fuel to reach the planned orbit above the space station with the secondary payload dropped from 99% to 95%. Because NASA had purchased the launch and therefore contractually controlled a number of mission decision points, NASA declined SpaceX's request to restart the second stage and attempt to deliver the secondary payload into the correct orbit. This risk was understood by the secondary payload customer at time of the signing of the launch contract. As a result, the secondary payload satellite reentered the atmosphere a few days after launch.
It was intended to recover the first stages of several early Falcon flights to assist engineers in designing for future reusability. They were equipped with parachutes but SpaceX was not successful in recovering the stages from the initial test launches using that approach due to their failure to survive post separation aerodynamic stress and heating. Although reusability of the second stage is more difficult, SpaceX intended from the beginning to make both stages of the Falcon 9 reusable.
Both stages in the early launches were covered with a layer of ablative cork and had parachutes to land them gently in the sea. The stages were also marinized by salt-water corrosion resistant material, anodizing and paying attention to galvanic corrosion. In early 2009, Musk stated:
By [Falcon 1] flight six we think it's highly likely we’ll recover the first stage, and when we get it back we’ll see what survived through re-entry, and what got fried, and carry on with the process. ... That's just to make the first stage reusable, it'll be even harder with the second stage – that has got to have a full heatshield, it'll have to have deorbit propulsion and communication.
Musk said that if the vehicle does not become reusable, "I will consider us to have failed." In the event, SpaceX had to develop an entirely different approach that did not use parachutes and they first recovered a Falcon 9 booster on flight 20 in December 2015.
In late 2011, SpaceX announced a change in the approach, eliminating the parachutes and going with a propulsively-powered-descent approach. On September 29, 2011, Musk suggested a privately funded program to develop powered descent and recovery of both Falcon 9 stages – a fully vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) rocket. Included was a video said to be an approximation depicting the first stage returning tail-first for a powered descent and the second stage, with heat shield, reentering head first before rotating for a powered descent.
Design was complete on the system for "bringing the rocket back to launchpad using only thrusters" in February 2012. The reusable launch system technology was then under consideration for both the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy; it was considered particularly well suited to the Falcon Heavy where the two outer cores separate from the rocket much earlier in the flight profile, and are therefore moving at lower velocity at stage separation.
A reusable first stage was then flight tested by SpaceX with the suborbital Grasshopper rocket. By April 2013, a low-altitude, low-speed demonstration test vehicle, Grasshopper v1.0, had made five VTVL test flights including an 80-second hover flight to an altitude of 744 m (2,441 ft).
In March 2013, SpaceX announced that, beginning with the first flight of the stretch version of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle—the sixth flight overall of Falcon 9, every first stage would be instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle. SpaceX continued their propulsive-return over-water tests, saying they "will continue doing such tests until they can do a return to the launch site and a powered landing. ... [They] expect several failures before they 'learn how to do it right.'"
For the early-fall 2013 flight, after stage separation, the first-stage booster attempted to conduct a burn to slow it down and then a second burn just before it reached the water. SpaceX stated they expected several powered-descent tests to achieve successful recovery.
By late 2014, SpaceX determined that the mass needed for a re-entry heat shield, landing engines, and other equipment to support recovery of the second stage was prohibitive, and suspended or abandoned their second-stage reusability plans for the Falcon line.
In March 2015, SpaceX publicly announced they were developing an upgraded version of the rocket to support first-stage reusability on flights to geosynchronous and other high energy orbits. The modifications included increasing engine thrust on both stages by 15%, increasing upper stage tank volume by 10%, and subcooling the propellants to obtain greater density. The cryogenic oxygen is cooled to −207 °C, yielding an 8% density increase, while the RP-1 fuel is cooled to −7 °C giving a 2.5–4% density increase. This performance increase compensates for the fuel reserved by the first stage for return and landing. This upgraded version, termed Falcon 9 Full Thrust, first flew on 21 December 2015.
Post-mission flight tests and landing attempts
The post-mission test plan called for the first-stage booster on the sixth Falcon 9 flight, and several subsequent F9 flights, to do a burn to reduce the first stage's horizontal velocity and then effect a second burn just before it reached the water. SpaceX announced the test program in March 2013, and continued to conduct tests until they could attempt another drone ship water powered landing.
Falcon 9 Flight 6's first stage performed the first propulsive-return over-water tests on 29 September 2013. Although not a complete success, the stage was able to change direction and make a controlled entry into the atmosphere. During the final landing burn, the ACS thrusters could not overcome an aerodynamically induced spin, and centrifugal force deprived the landing engine of fuel leading to early engine shutdown and a hard splashdown that destroyed the first stage. Pieces of wreckage were recovered for further study.
After further ocean landing tests, the first stage of the CRS-5 launch vehicle attempted a landing on a floating landing platform, the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship on January 10, 2015. The rocket guided itself to the ship successfully, but ran out of hydraulic fluid and lost its steering ability, causing it to tip over and explode on impact with the launch platform.
On September 1, 2016, during a routine preflight readiness test at Cape Canaveral's LC-40, an explosion occurred in the second stage during fueling, completely destroying the launch vehicle and causing extensive pad damage. The payload, Spacecom's AMOS-6 communications satellite was destroyed on impact with the ground. The incident was the first on-pad explosion at Cape Canaveral involving an orbital launch vehicle since the Atlas-Able 9C disaster in 1959.
Relaunch of previously-flown first stages
Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was the Falcon 9's first launch site and is the main location for ISS cargo resupply launches and for payloads going to geostationary orbits. A second SpaceX-leased launch site is located at Vandenberg Air Force Base's SLC-4 and is used for polar-orbit launches. The Vandenberg site became active on 29 September 2013 when it launched the Canadian-built CASSIOPE satellite.
Locations in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Puerto Rico were evaluated for a third site intended solely for commercial launches. The Boca Chica site in South Texas was selected in August 2014 to build the spaceport. Launches could commence in late 2017 or 2018. Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 pad A was modified following the end of NASA's space shuttle program to be compatible with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles; the first launch occurred on February 19, 2017 with the CRS-10 mission.
At the time of the rocket's maiden flight in 2010, the price of a Falcon 9 v1.0 launch was listed from $49.9 to $56 million. By 2012, the listed price range had increased to $54–$59.5 million. In August 2013, the initial list price for a Falcon 9 v1.1 was $56.5 million; it was raised to $61.2 million by June 2014. As of May 2016[update] the standard price for a Falcon 9 Full Thrust mission (allowing booster recovery) was published as $62 million. Dragon cargo missions to the ISS have an average cost of $133 million under a fixed price contract with NASA, including the cost of the capsule. The DSCOVR mission, also launched with Falcon 9 for NOAA, cost $97 million
In 2004, Elon Musk stated, "long term plans call for development of a heavy lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand. [...] Ultimately, I believe $500 per pound ($1100/kg) [of payload delivered to orbit] or less is very achievable." At its 2016 launch price and at full LEO payload capacity, the Falcon 9 FT cost $1,233 per pound ($2,719/kg).
In 2011, Musk estimated that fuel and oxidizer for the Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket cost a total of about $200,000. The first stage uses 39,000 US gallons (150,000 L) of liquid oxygen and almost 25,000 US gallons (95,000 L) of kerosene, while the second stage uses 7,300 US gallons (28,000 L) of liquid oxygen and 4,600 US gallons (17,000 L) of kerosene.
Secondary payload services
Falcon 9 payload services include secondary and tertiary payload connection via an EELV Secondary Payload Adapter ring, the same interstage adapter first used for launching secondary payloads on US DoD missions that use the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) Atlas V and Delta IV. This enables secondary and even tertiary missions with minimal impact to the original mission. As of 2011[update], SpaceX announced pricing for ESPA-compatible payloads on the Falcon 9.
Rockets from the Falcon 9 family have been launched 30 times over 6 years, resulting in 28 full mission successes, one partial success (with primary orbital payload delivery completed, but a secondary payload left in a lower-than-planned orbit), and one failure (with total loss of spacecraft). Additionally, one rocket and payload were destroyed before launch in preparation for an on-pad static fire test. This yields a reliability record of 94% of contracted primary missions. Eight of thirteen landing attempts ( 62%) have succeeded in recovering the rocket's first stage.
The first rocket version Falcon 9 v1.0 was launched five times from June 2010 to March 2013, its successor Falcon 9 v1.1 fifteen times from September 2013 to January 2016 and the latest upgrade Falcon 9 Full Thrust ten times from December 2015 to present.
Flights by rocket configuration
Flights by launch site
Flights by mission outcome
Flights by landing outcome[a]
- Experimental first-stage landings only
- Falcon 9 Flight 1, success on maiden flight
- Flight 2, COTS Demo Flight 1, first operational test of the Dragon capsule
- Flight 3, Dragon C2+, first cargo delivery to the International Space Station
- Flight 6, CASSIOPE, first Falcon v1.1, first launch from Vandenberg, first polar orbit, first scientific payload, first attempt at propulsive return of the first stage
- Flight 7, SES-8, first launch to GTO, first commercial payload (communications satellite)
- Flight 9, CRS-3, added landing legs, first fully controlled descent and vertical ocean touchdown (zero altitude, zero velocity)
- Flight 14, CRS-5, added grid fins, first attempt at landing on drone ship, popular RUD video
- Flight 15, DSCOVR, first mission passing escape velocity to the Sun-Earth L1 point, a solar orbit beyond the Moon distance
- Flight 16, ABS-3A and Eutelsat 115 West B, first launch of a dual satellite stack, innovative Boeing 702SP satellites using full electric propulsion with electrostatic ion thrusters
- Flight 19, CRS-7, total loss of mission due to structural failure and helium overpressure in the second stage
- Flight 20, Orbcomm OG-2, return to flight after accident investigation and corrective measures, first full-thrust rocket version, first deployment of multiple satellites (11 on this mission) in a constellation from a custom dispenser, first vertical landing achieved on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral
- Flight 22, SES-9, heaviest satellite launched to date (5,271 kg (11,621 lb)) towards GTO
- Flight 23, CRS-8, first vertical landing achieved on a drone ship at sea
- Flight 24, JCSAT-14, high-energy atmospheric re-entry, descent and landing from a GTO mission
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Orbcomm requested that SpaceX carry one of their small satellites (weighing a few hundred pounds, vs. Dragon at over 12,000 pounds)... The higher the orbit, the more test data [Orbcomm] can gather, so they requested that we attempt to restart and raise altitude. NASA agreed to allow that, but only on condition that there be substantial propellant reserves, since the orbit would be close to the space station. It is important to appreciate that Orbcomm understood from the beginning that the orbit-raising maneuver was tentative. They accepted that there was a high risk of their satellite remaining at the Dragon insertion orbit. SpaceX would not have agreed to fly their satellite otherwise, since this was not part of the core mission and there was a known, material risk of no altitude raise.
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We're still going to call it 'Falcon 9' but it's the full thrust upgrade.
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The aforementioned Second Stage will be tasked with a busy role during this mission, lofting the 5,300kg SES-9 spacecraft to its Geostationary Transfer Orbit.
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The commercial market for launching telecoms spacecraft is tightly contested, but has become dominated by just a few companies - notably, Europe's Arianespace, which flies the Ariane 5, and International Launch Services (ILS), which markets Russia's Proton vehicle. SpaceX is promising to substantially undercut the existing players on price, and SES, the world's second-largest telecoms satellite operator, believes the incumbents had better take note of the California company's capability.
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With Falcon I's fourth launch, the first stage got cooked, so we’re going to beef up the Thermal Protection System (TPS). By flight six we think it's highly likely we’ll recover the first stage, and when we get it back we’ll see what survived through re-entry, and what got fried, and carry on with the process. That's just to make the first stage reusable, it’ll be even harder with the second stage – that has got to have a full heatshield, it’ll have to have deorbit propulsion and communication.
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Q. What is strategy on booster recover? Musk: Initial recovery test will be a water landing. First stage continue in ballistic arc and execute a velocity reduction burn before it enters atmosphere to lessen impact. Right before splashdown, will light up the engine again. Emphasizes that we don’t expect success in the first several attempts. Hopefully next year with more experience and data, we should be able to return the first stage to the launch site and do a propulsion landing on land using legs. Q. Is there a flight identified for return to launch site of the booster? Musk: No. Will probably be the middle of next year.
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Once we have all nine engines and the stage working well as a system, we will extensively test the "engine out" capability. This includes explosive and fire testing of the barriers that separate the engines from each other and from the vehicle. ... It should be said that the failure modes we’ve seen to date on the test stand for the Merlin 1C are all relatively benign – the turbo pump, combustion chamber and nozzle do not rupture explosively even when subjected to extreme circumstances. We have seen the gas generator (that drives the turbo pump assembly) blow apart during a start sequence (there are now checks in place to prevent that from happening), but it is a small device, unlikely to cause major damage to its own engine, let alone the neighboring ones. Even so, as with engine nacelles on commercial jets, the fire/explosive barriers will assume that the entire chamber blows apart in the worst possible way. The bottom close out panels are designed to direct any force or flame downward, away from neighboring engines and the stage itself. ... we’ve found that the Falcon 9's ability to withstand one or even multiple engine failures, just as commercial airliners do, and still complete its mission is a compelling selling point with customers. Apart from the Space Shuttle and Soyuz, none of the existing  launch vehicles can afford to lose even a single thrust chamber without causing loss of mission.
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