Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX working to return Falcon to service

Falcon_9_with_CRS-3_Dragon_in_SLC-40_hangar_SpaceX photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is working to return the Hawthorne, California-based company’s Falcon 9 v1.1 booster to service. The firm has been working for almost three months to rise above the unsuccessful seventh CRS mission (under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program) where a strut in a Falcon 9’s upper stage failed, which resulted in the complete loss of the rocket and its payload of the Dragon spacecraft. 

At the time of the accident, the booster was 139 seconds into its flight – and SpaceX was preparing to upgrade the Falcon 9 from the v1.1 to the v1.2.

The company, founded in 2002, has maintained that it will return the Falcon 9 to flight later this year. Moreover, according to a report appearing on The Verge, SpaceX plans to launch the first of its Falcon Heavy boosters in the spring of next year (2016) from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 Commercial Resupply Services 7 launch photo credit Jared Haworth SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX has been working to return the Falcon 9 to service since the June 28 loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft. Photo Credit: Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

It remains to be seen if either of these events will occur on the currently projected schedule.

At present, some 19 Falcon 9s have taken to the skies between 2010–2015, for a flight rate of slightly less than four launches per year.

Each Falcon 9 employs nine Merlin engines in its first stage (depending on the model, they have either used the Merlin 1C or 1D versions of the engine).

The Falcon Heavy, essentially a triple-bodied version of the Falcon 9, will utilize 27 of these engines – providing a total sea-level thrust at liftoff of 20,418 kN (4,590,000 lbf), rising to 22,279 kN (5,008,500 lbf) as the craft climbs out of the atmosphere.

In March of this year, Space News writer Peter B. de Selding reported that the new version of the F9 was to take to the skies this summer. This new rocket will use the same Merlin 1D engines but with a modified fuel mix; it will also be 30 percent more powerful than the current version of the booster.

The rationale behind this increased power is that it would be needed if one of the Falcon 9’s were to heft a communications satellite to a geostationary orbit. That extra capability would be required to have the booster conduct the ballistic re-entry maneuver that SpaceX has been attempting to have the Falcon 9 carry out for the better part of two years.

At the time of the Space News report, Global satellite owner and operator SES had said that they were willing to be the first company to utilize this new version of the Falcon 9 to launch the 11,684 lb (5,300-kilogram)telecommunications satellite to geostationary orbit.

Although the new Falcon 9 version has been noted in some circles as the “v1.2“, an official name has not yet been assigned to the booster. As reported in Aviation Week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said, “I don’t know what we’re going to call it. Enhanced Falcon 9, Falcon 9 v1.2, Full-Performance Falcon 9.”

Perhaps ironically, SpaceX had opted to delay the launch of the TurkmenAlem52E / MonacoSAT from March 21 to an April 27, 2015 launch date. This delay, according to Space News, was due to: “an unspecified suspected anomaly in the helium pressurization tanks that are on both the first and second stage.”

SpaceX has several projects that it is currently working on, such as launching commercial and NASA payloads to orbit, as well as working to ferry cargoes for the U.S. Department of Defense. Besides those projects, the NewSpace firm is also developing a crewed version of its successful Dragon spacecraft and, as noted, efforts to decrease the cost of sending payloads to orbit via reusable launch systems.

SpaceX Hawthorne California Falcon 9 v1.1 first stages SpaceX photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX has been working to lower the cost of sending payloads to orbit by having the F9’s first stage conduct a controlled return landing. Photo Credit: SpaceX


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

I think they should name it after the California specific garter snake.

Informative! Many thanks
(compare to the junk you see on Google news)

JR and spaceflightinside just have earned – in my “empire” – the title worth-clicking.. 🙂


I found this through Google News…. 😉

From what I understand the name will be Falcon-9 Full Thrust. Wuith certain Congressmen making a issue of the hardware changes for the Falcon-9 they wouldn’t want to call it F9v1.2. A move to the v1.2 for the designation would then create more calls to have F9v1.2 go through EELV certification.

Any Rocket that is modified for higher thrust with an expanded flight envolope should be recertified.Obviously even with certification the Falcon 9 v1.1 has a problem.
Why not just call the new version the Falcon 10 and be done with it.

They probably won’t call it a Falcon 10 because it only has 9 engines, even with the 9 full power engines.

It has to remain Falcon 9, because it is still a nine engine booster.
Using version numbers reminds people of SpaceX’s Silicon Valley roots and iterative development. Not that this is a plus in the context of certification proceses that assume static designs, but that’s where it comes from.
So far, this iterative approach has not caused reliability issues. The failed strut was the same component used all the way back to Falcon 9 1.0, not a recent change.

Pretty sure the ‘9’ refers to the number of engines which won’t change.

this change is done only to engine. Engine on Falcone 9 1.1 never had problem. the destruction of previous was caused by uperstage. If you would rename it to falcon 10 it would mean that whole rocket changed which it didn’t.

You might like to rethink your statement on changes. It’s definitely NIT just the Merlin 1D. There are a number of other quite significant ones such as densification and S2 tank stretch.

According to the USAF, a re-certification isn’t required for a re-engine. It is required for the USAF to know what the changes will be and the details behind those changes. It is expected by the USAF that LV vehicles will change over time. This was explained to a certain Congressman from Colorado by the USAF during a hearing. ULA went through a engine upgrade on a Centaur upper stage and didn’t have to redo certification.

“Any Rocket that is modified for higher thrust with an expanded flight envelope should be recertified.”

Even ULA Delta IV should be re-certified when they flew upgraded RS-68A recently? Or upgraded RL-10 on the second stage? What about when ULA Atlas V flew in the 6 SRB config for the first time, should it have been re-certified? BTW re-certification is taking the platform offline for 18 month minimum for EELV service. Do you know what certification means in a detailed sense vs engineering change control board/review to make a decision one way or another?

Err.. 5 SRB config for Atas V.

Thank you Jason. It is always good to have a summary of the state of (SpaceX) things. All the items you have mentioned in this article have previously been announced or are generally known.

What I am most curious about is what is going on with those pesky struts that (it is believed) led to the loss of CRS-7? Elon Musk has stated they will be replacing the struts – so, how is that going? Did they go with a composite material or are they sticking with the heavier steel material? Will they be scrapping all existing struts or simply testing them to ensure they meet design parameters and, if so, using them in upcoming flights?

Thanks for the recap!


Elon Musk is very innovative at names for stuff – Falcon / Dragon / Crew Dragon / GigaFactory/ Hyperloop / Powerwall / SolarCity / Talulah

One of the things that many people miss about the Merlin engines is that they allow for fine control over throttling. Why not use one or two larger engines they say but I would like to see ULA try to land their large Atlas V engines with the necessary control. Having 9 engines on the Falcon 9 allows SpaceX to restart 3 engines to slow the first stage down and with the one central engine to have the finesse necessary to land the stage. Having large engines would make it practically impossible to achieve the same amount control over throttling. Secondly large engines burn more fuel so if you have a limited amount of fuel with which to land using smaller engines gives you the time and fuel to land successfully.

I wonder if they are 100% certain that a broken strut caused the failure. I’ve read that there are an enormous number of bogus bolts in commercial circulation these days.

Given the application involved all parts including fasteners should have a paper trail back to the source. When I was in the aerospace business (military defense systems parts mfg) even raw materials, such billet of titanium, came with a QC document certifying the providence. We were required to scan and store these documents and cross reference against what they were going into. In that way bogus parts are not likely to infect a rocket factory without knowing right away when something goes bang as they would some airplane maintenance depot outside FAA jurisdiction for example. In the case of rocket business you are talking about a handful of suppliers that only sell to a handful of customers with very high level of tracking. It makes no sense to purposely pollute a supply chain such as this.

First hand accounts from insiders I’ve seen in other forums all other “possible” reasons investigated during fault tree analysis do not explain all the data seen as well as strut failure. I think at this point with additional ground testing they are very confident the strut failure was the cause.

Didn’t know about the nine engine relation to the name, but considering that the rocket is to eventually fly astronauts, any modification that increases stress on the fuselage and engines needs to be fully tested. Given the political hesitation to move forward promptly with Orion, it is possible that Space X could beat NASA to Mars or Phobos with a manned mission. I should live so long!

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