SpaceX launch vehicles

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Flown SpaceX launch vehicles to scale – from left to right, the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 v1.0, Falcon 9 v1.1, Falcon 9 Full Thrust, Falcon 9 Block 5, and Falcon Heavy

SpaceX manufactures launch vehicles to operate its launch provider services and to execute its various exploration goals. SpaceX currently manufactures and operates the Falcon 9 Full Thrust family of medium-lift launch vehicles and the Falcon Heavy family of heavy-lift launch vehicles – both of which powered by SpaceX's Merlin engines and employing VTVL technologies to reuse the first stage. The company is also currently developing the fully reusable BFR family of super heavy-lift launch vehicles, which will replace the Falcon 9 Full Thrust and Falcon Heavy with a combined Super Heavy-Starship launch system powered by the company's Raptor engines.

SpaceX's first launch vehicle family, the Falcon 1, was the first privately developed liquid fuel launch vehicle to be launched into orbit, and utilized SpaceX's Merlin and Kestrel engines for its first and second stages, respectively. It was launched five times from Omelek Island between 2006 and 2009 – the Falcon 1e and Falcon 5 variants were planned but never developed. The Falcon 9 v1.0 series of launch vehicles, utilizing upgraded Merlin engines on both its stages, was developed as part of the United States Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program and NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. It was first launched from Cape Canaveral in 2010 and later replaced by the Falcon 9 v1.1 series in 2013, which was also launched from Vandenberg. The Falcon 9 Full Thrust and Falcon Heavy variants followed in 2015 and 2018, and are both launched from Kennedy, in addition to Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg.


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 "Full Thrust"[edit]

The Dragon capsule sits atop the Falcon 9 rocket before the Demo-1 launch.

The "Full Thrust" version of Falcon 9 is an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 v1.1. It was used the first time on 22 December 2015 for the ORBCOMM-2 launch at Cape Canaveral SLC-40 launch pad.

The first stage was upgraded with a larger liquid oxygen tank, loaded with subcooled propellants to allow a greater mass of fuel in the same tank volume. The second stage was also extended for greater fuel tank capacity. These upgrades brought a 33% increase to the previous rocket performance.[2] 5 sub-variants have been flown, only Falcon 9 Block 5 is still active.

Falcon Heavy[edit]

Falcon Heavy on pad LC-39A

Falcon Heavy (FH) is a super heavy lift space launch vehicle designed and manufactured by SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy is a variant of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle comprising three Falcon 9 first stages: a reinforced center core, and two additional side boosters. All three boosters are designed to be recovered and reused. The side boosters assigned to Falcon Heavy's first flight were recovered from two prior Falcon 9 missions. SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy on February 6, 2018, delivering a payload comprising Musk's personal Tesla Roadster (playing Life On Mars?, by David Bowie) onto a trajectory reaching the orbit of Mars.[3]


Falcon 1[edit]

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

The Falcon 1 is a small, partially reusable rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low earth orbit.[4] It also functioned as a testbed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9.[4] 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.[5]

On 26 March 2006, the Falcon 1's maiden flight failed only seconds after leaving the pad due to a fuel line rupture.[6][7] 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.[5] 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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[9] The Falcon 1 carried its first and only successful commercial payload into orbit on 13 July 2009, on its fifth launch.[10] 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.[11] By December 2010, Falcon 1e replaced the services of Falcon 1 on the SpaceX product list.[12]

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.[13]

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.

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

On 8 September 2005, SpaceX announced the development of the Falcon 9 rocket, which has nine Merlin engines in its first stage.[14] 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.[14]

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— has been retired meanwhile.

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.[15] It includes realigned first-stage engines[16] and 60 percent longer fuel tanks, making it more susceptible to bending during flight.[15] 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).[17]

The stage separation system has been redesigned and reduces the number of attachment points from twelve to three,[15] and the vehicle has upgraded avionics and software as well.[15]

The new first stage will also be used as side boosters on the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.[18]

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).[19]

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;[20] however the maiden flight was postponed several times and took place on 4 June 2010.[21] 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.[22] The original NASA contract called for the COTS Demo Flight 1 to occur the second quarter of 2008;[23] this flight was delayed several times, occurring at 15:43 GMT on 8 December 2010.[24] The rocket successfully deployed an operational Dragon spacecraft at 15:53 GMT.[24] 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.[25][deprecated source] 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.[25] 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.[26] 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.[26]


Grasshopper vehicle in September 2012

Grasshopper was an experimental technology-demonstrator, suborbital reusable launch vehicle (RLV), a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) rocket.[27] 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.[28] All eight flights were from the McGregor, Texas, test facility.

Grasshopper began flight testing in September 2012 with a brief, three-second hop. It was followed by a second hop in November 2012, which consisted of an 8-second flight that took the testbed approximately 5.4 m (18 ft) off the ground. A third flight occurred 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.[29] Grasshopper made its eighth and final test flight on October 7, 2013, flying to an altitude of 744 m (2,441 ft; 0.462 mi) before making its eighth successful vertical landing.[30] The Grasshopper test vehicle is now retired.[28]


Falcon 5[edit]

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.[31] Like the Falcon 9, it was also slated to be human-rated and reusable.[31]

Falcon 9 Air[edit]

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,[32] as part of the Stratolaunch project.[33] 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.[34]



The SpaceX Starship is both the second stage of a reusable launch vehicle and a spacecraft that is being developed by SpaceX, as a private spaceflight project. [35] It is being designed to be a long-duration cargo- and passenger-carrying spacecraft.[36] While it is tested on its own initially, it will be used on orbital launches with an additional booster stage, the Super Heavy, where Starship would serve as the second stage on a two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle.[37] The combination of spacecraft and booster is called Starship as well.[38]

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 maintained (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]

Moreover, SpaceX prices for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are much lower than the projected prices for Ariane 6, projected to be available in 2020, 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][needs update]


Falcon 1 Falcon 1e Falcon 9 v1.0 Falcon 9 v1.1 Falcon 9 Full Thrust Falcon Heavy
Stage 0 2 boosters with
9 × Merlin 1D (with minor upgrades)[46]
Stage 1 1 × Merlin 1C[A] 1 × Merlin 1C 9 × Merlin 1C 9 × Merlin 1D 9 × Merlin 1D (with minor upgrades)[46] 9 × Merlin 1D (with minor upgrades)[47]
Stage 2 1 × Kestrel 1 × Kestrel 1 × Merlin Vacuum 1 × Merlin Vacuum 1 × Merlin 1D Vacuum (with minor upgrades)[46][47] 1 × Merlin 1D Vacuum (with minor upgrades)[46][47]
Max. height (m) 21.3 26.83 54.9[4] 68.4[48] 70[47][49] 70[47][49]
Diameter (m) 1.7 1.7 3.6[4] 3.7[48][50] 3.7[48][50] 3.7 × 11.6[51]
Initial thrust (kN) 318 454 4,900[4] 5,885[48]
Takeoff mass (tonnes) 27.2 38.56 333[4] 506[48] 549[49] 1,421[51]
Inner fairing diameter (m) 1.5 1.71 3.7 or 5.2[4] 5.2[48][50] 5.2 5.2[51]
LEO payload (kg) 570 1,010 10,450[4] 13,150[48] 22,800 (expendable, from Cape Canaveral)[54] 63,800 (expendable)[51]
GTO payload (kg) 4,540[4] 4,850[48][50]
26,700 (expendable)[51]
Price history
(mil. USD)
2006: 6.7 [57]
2007: 6.9 [58]
2008: 7.9 [57]
2007: 8.5 [57]
2008: 9.1 [57]
2010: 10.9 [57]
2005: 27 (3.6 m fairing to LEO)
          35 (5.2 m fairing to LEO)[59]
2011: 54 to 59.5[4]
2013: 54[60] – 56.5[17] 2014: 61.2 [49] 2011: 80 to 124 [61]
2012: 83 to 128[62]
2013: 77.1 (≤6,400 kg to GTO)[17]
          135 (>6,400 kg to GTO)[17]
Current price (mil. USD) 62 (≤5,500 kg to GTO)[63] 90 (≤8,000 kg to GTO)[63]
Success ratio (successful/total) 2/5 5/5[64] 14/15 (CRS-7 lost in flight) 56/56 (not including loss of Amos-6) 3/3

A Post 2008. Merlin 1A was used from 2006 till 2007.[65]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Joseph Gordon-Levitt at SpaceX". Youtube. p. timeindex 2:25.
  2. ^ SpaceX ORBCOMM-2 webcast
  3. ^ "SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch successful". CBS News. February 6, 2018. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
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  6. ^ Malik, Tariq (2006-03-26). "Article: Fuel Leak and Fire Led to Falcon 1 Rocket Failure, SpaceX Says". Archived from the original on 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  7. ^ Malik, Tariq (2006-03-26). "SpaceX's Inaugural Falcon 1 Rocket Lost Just After Launch". Archived from the original on 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
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  9. ^ "SpaceX Successfully Launches Falcon 1 To Orbit" (Press release). SpaceX. 28 September 2008. Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  10. ^ Rowe, Aaron (2009-07-14). "SpaceX Launch Successfully Delivers Satellite Into Orbit". Wired Science. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  11. ^ "Falcon 1 Launch Vehicle Payload User's Guide" (PDF). Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. May 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
  12. ^ "Falcon 1 Overview". SpaceX. 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  13. ^ O'Neill, Ian (2011-09-30). "The Falcon is Dead, Long Live the Falcon?". Discovery News. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  14. ^ a b "SpaceX announces the Falcon 9 fully reusable heavy lift launch vehicle" (Press release). 2005-09-08. Archived from the original on 2013-03-26. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
  15. ^ a b c d Klotz, Irene (2013-09-06). "Musk Says SpaceX Being "Extremely Paranoid" as It Readies for Falcon 9's California Debut". Space News. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
  16. ^ "Falcon 9's commercial promise to be tested in 2013". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
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  26. ^ a b William Graham (2013-09-29). "SpaceX successfully launches debut Falcon 9 v1.1". Retrieved 2013-10-16.
  27. ^ Klotz, Irene (2011-09-27). "A rocket that lifts off—and lands—on launch pad". MSNBC. Retrieved 2011-11-23.
  28. ^ a b Klotz, Irene (2013-10-17). "SpaceX Retires Grasshopper, New Test Rig To Fly in December". Space News. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
  29. ^ Boyle, Alan (2012-12-24). "SpaceX launches its Grasshopper rocket on 12-story-high hop in Texas". MSNBC Cosmic Log. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  30. ^ "Grasshopper flies to its highest height to date". Social media information release. SpaceX. 12 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013. WATCH: Grasshopper flies to its highest height to date - 744 m (2441 ft) into the Texas sky. This was the last scheduled test for the Grasshopper rig; next up will be low altitude tests of the Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) development vehicle in Texas followed by high altitude testing in New Mexico.
  31. ^ a b Wade, Mark (2011). "Falcon 5". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 2011-12-01. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  32. ^ "The Stratolaunch Team". Stratoluanch Systems. 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-02-17. Retrieved 2011-12-20. ... integrate the SpaceX Falcon 9 Air with the Scaled Composites mothership.
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  34. ^ Rosenberg, Zach (2012-11-27). "Stratolaunch and SpaceX part ways". Flight Global. Retrieved 2012-11-29.
  35. ^ Berger, Eric (29 September 2019). "Elon Musk, Man of Steel, reveals his stainless Starship". Ars Technica. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
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  37. ^ Boyle, Alan (19 November 2018). "Goodbye, BFR … hello, Starship: Elon Musk gives a classic name to his Mars spaceship". GeekWire. Retrieved 22 November 2018. Starship is the spaceship/upper stage & Super Heavy is the rocket booster needed to escape Earth’s deep gravity well (not needed for other planets or moons)
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  39. ^ Dean, James (2013-12-04). "SpaceX makes its point with Falcon 9 launch". USA Today. Retrieved 2013-12-07.
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  43. ^ "Ariane 6 series production begins with first batch of 14 launchers". Arianespace. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  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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  56. ^ Barbara Opall-Rome (12 October 2015). "IAI Develops Small, Electric-Powered COMSAT". DefenseNews. Retrieved 12 October 2015. At 5.3 tons, Amos-6 is the largest communications satellite ever built by IAI. Scheduled for launch in early 2016 from Cape Canaveral aboard a Space-X Falcon 9 launcher, Amos-6 will replace Amos-2, which is nearing the end of its 16-year life.
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External links[edit]