Historic Spacecraft Dragons orbiting Earth.

Rockets of SpaceX


SpaceX is a space transportation company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk.

SpaceX headquarters, as well as production facilities and mission control, are located in Hawthorne, California. The company operates a rocket testing facility near McGregor, Texas. SpaceX currently operates launch pads at both Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force base. Early Falcon 1 test flights occurred at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to launch vehicles, SpaceX has developed the Dragon space station re-supply vehicle. The company has a contract with NASA to periodically fly supplies to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is currently developing the Falcon Heavy rocket. The large rocket will include three modified Falcon 9 first stages and will have over twice the payload capability of the largest rockets currently in service.

Also under development is the Dragon 2 crew vehicle. Dragon 2 is being developed as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program and will be used to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

For more information, visit the SpaceX website.

Falcon 1 illustration Falcon 9 illustration Falcon 9 version 1.1 illustration Falcon 9 1.1 with Dragon illustration Falcon 9 FT with payload fairing Falcon 9 FT with Dragon illustration 1.8 Meter Human Figure Falcon 9 Grasshopper test vehicle Falcon 9R test vehicle Recovered Falcon 9 FT artwork

Left to right: Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Falcon 9 v1.1, Falcon 9 v1.1 with Dragon, Falcon 9 FT with payload fairing, Falcon 9 FT with Dragon, Human figure for scale (1.8m tall), Grasshopper test vehicle, Falcon 9R test vehicle, Falcon 9 FT recovered stage.

Space X Falcon 1 illustration

Falcon 1

The two-stage Falcon 1 rocket used RP-1 and LOX as propellants. A single Merlin engine powered the first stage, while a Kestral engine powered the second stage. Both engines were designed and built by SpaceX.

Five Falcon 1 rockets were launched between 2006 and 2009. The first three flights ended in failure, while the last two were successful. All flights were launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

Space X Falcon 9 illustration Space X Falcon 9 version 1.1 illustration

Falcon 9

Falcon 9 is a two stage space launch vehicle developed by SpaceX. Both stages are fueled with RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen. The first stage is propelled by nine Merlin engines, while the second stage uses a single Merlin engine modified for use in the upper stage.

SpaceX builds both stages in-house at their production facility in Hawthorne, California. Stages are test-fired at a facility near McGregor, Texas, before shipping to Cape Canaveral or Vandenberg Air Force base for launch.

The first Falcon 9 orbital mission was flown in June 2010.

SpaceX is developing technology to allow reuse of Falcon rocket first stages.

Falcon 9 v1.1

First flown in September, 2013, The Falcon 9 version 1.1 (right) featured significantly improved performance. Upgrades included lengthened propellant tanks, upgraded engines, and a new thrust structure. The first stage was designed to perform a controlled reentry and propulsive landing after completing its mission.

The first stage rocket arrangement changed from a three-by-three grid layout to a circular layout of eight engines surrounding a center engine.

Fifteen Falcon 9 1.1 rockets flew before beign replaced by the improved Falcon 9 FT.

Falcon 9 FT

The Falcon 9 FT, sometimes referred to as "Full Thrust" or version 1.2, was first flown in December 2015. Fuel capacity was increased through the use of densified propellants and a slightly stretched second stage. The upgrade also incorporated uprated engines and improved landing legs.

Falcon 9 First Stage Recovery Testing

Falcon 9 First Stage Landing Tests.
First Stage Recovery Tests
Left to right, Grasshopper, Falcon 9R, Falcon 9FT launch configuration and after recovery.
(View Larger Version)

SpaceX has always believed rocket reuse was important for achieving their future goals. When experiments using parachute aided recovery, conducted on early Falcon missions, were not successful, plans were made to investigate propulsive landing.

To conduct propulsive landing experiments, a pair of test vehicles, known as Grasshopper and Falcon 9R where built and tested at the SpaceX facility in McGregor Texas.

The first successful stage recovery, on an operational mission, occurred in December 2015 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Boost Back Burn

On missions attempting to return to launch site, a boost back burn is performed. After stage separation, the first stage uses gas jets to flip over, orienting itself toward its landing site. A main engine burn is conducted to cancel the downrange momentum and propel the rocket toward the planned landing site.

Reentry Burn

As the rocket falls toward the atmosphere, the stage reorientates itself to point its engines into the direction of flight. A burn is conducted to slow the rockets descent, reducing atmospheric heating. As denser atmosphere is encountered, four grid fins, located on the interstage, help control the rockets attitude and trajectory.

Landing Burn

The rocket is in free-fall for most of the descent through the atmosphere. As the landing site is neared, a final burn is initiated to slow the rocket. Seconds before touchdown, four landing legs are deployed.

Landing Sites

When fuel margins are sufficient, a boost-back burn and return to launch site landing is possible. However some missions, such as those launching heavy GTO payloads, may have insufficient fuel margins to conduct the boost-back burn. In these cases, recovery may be accomplished downrange by landing on specially constructed drone ships at sea.

Early landing experiments, with operational boosters, occurred at sea. Either over open ocean, or on drone ships. The first successful landing occurred on land at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.

The East coast drone ship, servicing missions launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, is named "Of Course I Still Love You".

On the West coast, "Just Read The Instructions" supports mission lunched from Vandenburg Air Force Base.

SpaceX Dragon Capsule
SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

Dragon Spacecraft

A frequent payload for Falcon 9 is the Dragon spacecraft. Developed in conjunction with NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, the Dragon capsule is capable of carrying both pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the International Space Station. At the end of each mission, the spacecraft can return pressurized cargo back to Earth. Future Dragon improvements include the ability to transport up to seven astronauts to and from an Earth orbiting space station.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches
29 ----------- CCAFS SLC-40 FTAmos-6GTO mission.Failure during pre-flight testing on 1 Sep 2016.
28 14 Aug 2016 CCAFS SLC-40 FTJCSAT-16GTO mission.Success
27 18 Jul 2016 CCAFS SLC-40 FTDragonCRS-9, Resupply of ISS.Success
26 15 Jun 2016 CCAFS SLC-40 FTABS-2A
Eutelsat 117
GTO mission.Success
25 27 May 2016 CCAFS SLC-40 FTThaicom-8GTO mission.Success
24 6 May 2016 CCAFS SLC-40 FTJCSAT-14GTO mission.Success
23 8 Apr 2016 CCAFS SLC-40 FTDragonCRS-8, Resupply of ISS.Success
22 4 Mar 2016 CCAFS SLC-40 FTSES-9GTO mission.Success
21 17 Jan 2016 VAFB SLC-4E 1.1Jason-3Launch of LEO Earth observation spacecraft.Success
20 21 Dec 2015 CCAFS SLC-40 FTOG2 (11)Launch of eleven ORBCOMM comsats.
First stage landed successfully at CCAFS.
19 28 Jun 2015 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1DragonCRS-7, Attempted ISS resupply mission.Failure
18 27 Apr 2015 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1TurkmenAlem 52EGTO mission.Success
17 14 Apr 2015 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1DragonCRS-6, Resupply of ISS.Success
16 1 Mar 2015 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1ABS-3A
Eutelsat 115
Launch of two communication
satellites to GTO.
15 11 Feb 2015 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1DSCOVRLaunch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory.Success
14 10 Jan 2015 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1DragonCRS-5, Resupply of ISS.Success
13 21 Sep 2014 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1DragonCRS-4, Resupply of ISS.Success
12 7 Sep 2014 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1AsiaSat 6GTO mission.Success
11 5 Aug 2014 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1AsiaSat 8GTO mission.Success
10 14 Jul 2014 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1OG2 (6)Launch of six ORBCOMM communication
satellites to LEO.
9 18 Apr 2014 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1DragonCRS-3, Resupply of ISS.Success
8 6 Jan 2014 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1Thaicom-6GTO mission.Success
7 3 Dec 2013 CCAFS SLC-40 1.1SES-8First GTO mission for SpaceX.Success
6 29 Sep 2013 VAFB SLC-4E 1.1CASSIOPEFirst flight of version 1.1 rocket.Success
5 1 Mar 2013 CCAFS SLC-40 1.0DragonCRS-2, Resupply of ISS.Success
4 7 Oct 2012 CCAFS SLC-40 1.0DragonCRS-1, Resupply of ISS.Success
3 22 May 2012 CCAFS SLC-40 1.0DragonCOTS-2+, First Dragon berthing with ISS.Success
2 8 Dec 2010 CCAFS SLC-40 1.0DragonCOTS-1, First flight of Dragon Capsule.Success
1 4 Jun 2010 CCAFS SLC-40 1.0---Test flight of Falcon 9 rocket.Success

NOTE: CCAFS SLC-40 = Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 40. VAFB SLC-4E = Vandenberg Air Force Base, Space Launch Complex 4E

For more information about Falcon 9 and Dragon, visit the SpaceX website.

Creative Commons License Images by Richard Kruse are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
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