The Hangar / Falcon 9 & Falcon Heavy
The Falcon 9 is a medium- to heavy-lift launch vehicle designed and built by Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). It is the first, and only, rocket to fly and soft-land a first stage after it has sent a payload to orbit.
The rocket is also the first commercially designed and built vehicle to launch spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The booster has launched satellites for commercial customers, cargo for the ISS, and was awarded a contract by the U.S. Air Force in 2016.
The vehicle has flown successfully 32* times, with one orbital-insertion partial failure in October 2012, one in-flight failure in June 2015, and one ground-test anomaly on Sept. 1, 2016 – the latter two resulted in the total loss of the vehicle and the payload. Vehicle operations were been suspended until the cause of the anomaly was identified and rectified. Operations in Florida have been transferred to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A while awaiting repairs to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40, which was damaged in the Sept. 1 explosion.
At present, the rocket is slated to launch the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS in 2018 under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). SpaceX also plans to launch a “Heavy” version of the vehicle, which will employ three Falcon 9 core stages and a second stage to send a payload to space.
SpaceX has launched the Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as well as Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company finished modifying LC-39A – the complex formerly used for Apollo and Space Shuttle Launches – in 2017 to support Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch operations.
The single-core Falcon 9 lifts off when all nine Merlin engines come up to full power. Pitch, law, and roll control are all handled by the engines, which are gimbal mounted. The first stage burns for 162 seconds before burning out and being jettisoned. Following first stage separation, the second stage Merlin ignites and takes the payload to a parking orbit before igniting again to place the payload into its final orbit. Once the second stage orbit ignites, the payload fairing is jettisoned.
After being jettisoned, the first stage initiates a flip maneuver and begins a powered return back to Earth. Using a combination of reaction control thrusters, forward-mounted grid fins, and thrust from one to three of the main engines, the first stage flies either to a remotely-operated ship in the Atlantic Ocean, or to land. Upon arrival, the vehicle deploys a set of landing legs and sets itself down upright.
Launching only from LC-39A, the Heavy variant will consist of three cores sporting a total of 27 engines. Like the single-core variant, the Heavy version’s gimbaled Merlin engines will perform pitch, yaw, and roll maneuvers as the rocket heads out over the Atlantic. The port and starboard cores, acting as boosters, will burn out first and separate from the remaining core. Once separated, the two booster cores will perform their own “flip” maneuvers to begin re-entry and landing sequences. The center core will burn slightly longer before shutting down and separating. Upon separation, the center core will also return to Earth and the second stage will send the payload to orbit.
Vehicle Payload Upmass
|Variant||Falcon 9 v1.2||Heavy|
|LEO||22,800 kg||54,400 kg|
|GTO||8,300 kg||22,200 kg|
|Escape||4,020 kg||13,600 kg|
The Falcon 9 launch vehicle is a two-stage vehicle using kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOx) propellants for both stages. The first stage employs nine SpaceX Merlin engines, while its second stage flies with a single vacuum-rated Merlin engine. The first stage total thrust is rated at 1,710,000 lbf (7,607 kN) of thrust at sea level; the second-stage Merlin is rated at 210,000 lbf (934 kN) thrust in vacuum. The rocket uses a 17-foot (5.2 m) wide, 43-foot (13.1 m) tall payload fairing except when flying SpaceX’s own Dragon spacecraft. Overall, the rocket is 229.6 feet (70 m) tall with a stage diameter of 12 feet (3.7 m).
The first stage includes two innovations:
- Chilled (“deep cryo”) liquid oxygen and cooled RP-1 fuel to increase propellant density in the upper stage.
- The ability to perform a controlled, autonomous landing on a free-floating ship at sea or at a specific location on land.
The landing process is part of a plan to re-use the rocket’s core stages. The first payload scheduled to fly on a flown and refurbished core stage is SES-10.
Falcon Heavy comprises three core stages generating a total of 5,130,000 lbf (22,819 kN) of thrust at sea level, plus the second stage with 210,000 lbf (934 kN) of thrust in vacuum. The vehicle uses the same payload fairing as Falcon 9. SpaceX anticipates recovering all three core stages – the port and starboard cores, which act as boosters, and then the first stage. The Heavy version is also 229.6 feet (70 meters) tall with a width of 39.9 feet (12.2 meters) across the three cores.
Operations were suspended for 4.5 months in order for SpaceX to determine the root cause of the anomaly that destroyed one of the rockets on the pad during a routine fueling test. The explosion that occurred on Sept. 1, 2016, destroyed the vehicle and AMOS-6 payload. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described the anomaly as “the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years.” The anomaly occurred around Falcon 9’s upper stage during a filling operation prior to a static first stage test.
In an update on Jan. 2, 2017, SpaceX said that it had determined the cause of the explosion:
The accident investigation team worked systematically through an extensive fault tree analysis and concluded that one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank failed. Specifically, the investigation team concluded the failure was likely due to the accumulation of oxygen between the COPV liner and overwrap in a void or a buckle in the liner, leading to ignition and the subsequent failure of the COPV.
The company said it took corrective actions to avoid the conditions that led to the explosion by changing its fueling process. In particular, it will load warmer temperature helium.
On Jan. 14, 2017, the company resumed launches with the flight of Iridium 1 from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E.
Because it shares core stages with the Falcon 9, the Heavy’s planned launch in late 2017 is likely to be delayed pending completion of repairs to SLC-40 after the Sept. 1, 2016, Amos-6 launch pad explosion. In April 2016, Musk unveiled plans to send an unmanned spacecraft, Red Dragon, to Mars as early as 2018. Red Dragon would likely use the Heavy version as its launch vehicle.
|Launch sites||Cape Canaveral AFS SLC-40
Vandenberg Air Force SLC-4
Kennedy Space Center LC-39A
SpaceX South Texas Launch Site
|First Flight||Flight 1
June 4, 2010
|Notable payloads||ISS CRS
* Data current as of May 2017
To date, SpaceX has launched cargo flights to the ISS as well as satellites for domestic and international commercial customers.
- September 18, 2017: In the footsteps of SpaceX: Chinese company eyes development of reusable rocket
- September 14, 2017: Video: SpaceX shows ‘how not to land an orbital rocket booster’
- September 11, 2017: Kacific contracts with SpaceX to orbit Kacific-1 satellite
- September 7, 2017: SpaceX beats odds, Hurricane Irma to launch Falcon 9 with X-37B
- September 1, 2017: 1 year after Falcon 9 explosion, SpaceX makes 2017 its banner year
- August 24, 2017: Falcon 9 launches all-Taiwanese Formosat-5 into orbit
- August 23, 2017: Falcon 9 set to launch Taiwanese Formosat-5 from California
- August 16, 2017: SFI Video: Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 with CRS-12 Dragon
- August 16, 2017: Gallery: SpaceX launches CRS-12 into space, lands Falcon 9 first stage
- August 15, 2017: Flight proven Falcon 9 booster may launch the SES-11 satellite into orbit
|NETOct 2||SES 11/EchoStar 105|
|Oct 4||Iridium Next Flight-3|
|NETOct 14||Koreasat 5A|
|NETNov||Iridium Next Flight-4|
|NETNov||Falcon Heavy Test Flight|
|NETFeb||Crew Dragon Demo 1|
|NET2018||SpaceX In-Flight Abort|
Graphics provided by SpaceX. Photos provided by SpaceFlight Insider.