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Rockets of SpaceX


Illustration of SpaceX Falcon rockets.
SpaceX Falcon Rockets
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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 rocket testing facilities near McGregor, Texas and near Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX currently operates launch pads at Kennedy Space Center, 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 has developed a three-core rocket known as the Falcon Heavy. The large rocket includes three modified Falcon 9 first stages and is one of the most powerful rockets currently in service.

The company has also developed a crewed spacecraft, known as Crew Dragon. Crew Dragon was developed as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program and is 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 Falcon 9 Block 5 with payload fairing Falcon 9 Block 5 with Crew Dragon spacecraft Falcon Heavy 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, Falcon 9 Block-5 with payload fairing, Falcon 9 Block-5 with Crew Dragon, Falcon Heavy, 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 Block-5

First flown in May, 2018, the Falcon 9 Block-5 incorporated modifications allowing more easier re-use of the first stage.

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.
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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 Vandenberg 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.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule
SpaceX Crew Dragon Spacecraft

Crew Dragon Spacecraft

Crew Dragon was developed as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program and is used to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

An orbital test flight, including docking at the ISS, was successfully completed in March, 2019. The first crewed mission to the ISS, SpX-DM2, was launched in May, 2020.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches
MissionLauncher Results
93 3 Sept 2020 KSC LC-39A B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
92 30 Aug 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5SAOCOM 1BLaunch of Argentine
Earth observation satellite.
91 18 Aug 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 58 Starlink comsats
and secondary payloads.
90 7 Aug 2020 KSC LC-39A B5StarlinkLaunch of 57 Starlink comsats
and secondary payloads.
89 20 July 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5ANASIS-IILaunch of South Korean
military satellite.
88 30 June 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5GPS IIIGPS satellite deployment.Success
87 13 June 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 58 Starlink comsats
and secondary payloads.
86 3 June 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
85 30 May 2020 KSC LC-39A B5Crew DragonSpX-DM2, First crewed test flight of Dragon 2.Success
84 22 Apr 2020 KSC LC-39A B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
83 18 Mar 2020 KSC LC-39A B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
82 7 Mar 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5DragonCRS-20, Resupply of ISS.Success
81 17 Feb 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
80 29 Jan 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
79 19 Jan 2020 KSC LC-39A B5Crew DragonIn-flight abort test.
78 7 Jan 2020 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
77 17 Dec 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5JCSat-18 / Kacific 1GTO mission.Success
76 5 Dec 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5DragonCRS-19, Resupply of ISS.Success
75 11 Nov 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
74 6 Aug 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5AMOS-17GTO mission.Success
73 25 Jul 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5DragonCRS-18, Resupply of ISS.Success
72 12 Jun 2019 VAFB SLC-4E B5RADARSATLaunch of 3 satellites.Success
71 24 May 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5StarlinkLaunch of 60 Starlink comsats.Success
70 4 May 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5DragonCRS-17, Resupply of ISS.Success
69 2 Mar 2019 KSC LC-39A B5Crew DragonSpX-DM1, Test flight of crew capsule.Success
68 22 Feb 2019 CCAFS SLC-40 B5Nusantara Satu
Launch of Indonesian comsat
and a Moon lander.
67 11 Jan 2019 VAFB SLC-4E B5Iridium NEXTLaunch of 10 Iridium comsats.Success
66 23 Dec 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 B5GPS IIIGPS satellite deployment.Success
65 5 Dec 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 B5DragonCRS-16, Resupply of ISS.Success
64 3 Dec 2018 VAFB SLC-4E B5SSO-A (SmallSat Express)Deployment of 64 small satellites.Success
63 15 Nov 2018 KSC LC-39A B5Es'hail 2GTO mission.Success
62 7 Oct 2018 VAFB SLC-4E B5SAOCOM 1ASSO mission.Success
61 10 Sep 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 B5Telstar 18VGTO mission.Success
60 7 Aug 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 B5Merah PutihGTO mission.Success
59 25 Jul 2018 VAFB SLC-4E B5Iridium NEXTLaunch of 10 Iridium comsats.Success
58 22 Jul 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 B5Telstar 19VGTO mission.Success
57 29 Jun 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 FTDragonCRS-15, Resupply of ISS.Success
56 4 Jun 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 FTSES-12GTO mission.Success
55 22 May 2018 VAFB SLC-4E FTIridium NEXT
Launch of five Iridium comsats and
and two GRACE satellites.
54 11 May 2018 KSC LC-39A B5Bangabandhu-1GTO mission.Success
53 18 Apr 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 FTTESSLaunch of exoplanet survey satellite.Success
52 2 Apr 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 FTDragonCRS-14, Resupply of ISS.Success
51 30 Mar 2018 VAFB SLC-4E FTIridium NEXTLaunch of ten Iridium comsats.Success
50 6 Mar 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 FTHispasat 30W-6GTO mission.Success
49 22 Feb 2018 VAFB SLC-4E FTPaz / Tintin A & BLEO mission.Success
48 31 Jan 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 FTGovSat-1 / SES-16GTO mission.Success
47 8 Jan 2018 CCAFS SLC-40 FTZumaClassified mission.Success
46 23 Dec 2017 VAFB SLC-4E FTIridium NEXTLaunch of ten Iridium comsats.Success
45 15 Dec 2017 CCAFS SLC-40 FTDragonCRS-13, Resupply of ISS.Success
44 30 Oct 2017 KSC LC-39A FTKoreasat 5AGTO mission.Success
43 11 Oct 2017 KSC LC-39A FTSES-11 / EchoStar 105GTO mission.Success
42 9 Oct 2017 VAFB SLC-4E FTIridium NEXTLaunch of ten Iridium comsats.Success
41 7 Sep 2017 KSC LC-39A FTX-37BLaunch of OTV-5.Success
40 24 Aug 2017 VAFB SLC-4E FTFORMOSAT-5Launch of remote sensing satellite.Success
39 14 Aug 2017 KSC LC-39A FTDragonCRS-12, Resupply of ISS.Success
38 5 Jul 2017 KSC LC-39A FTIntelsat 35eGTO mission.Success
37 25 Jun 2017 VAFB SLC-4E FTIridium NEXTLaunch of ten Iridium comsats.Success
36 23 Jun 2017 KSC LC-39A FTBulgariaSat-1GTO mission.Success
35 3 Jun 2017 KSC LC-39A FTDragonCRS-11, Resupply of ISS.Success
34 15 May 2017 KSC LC-39A FTInmarsat-5 F4GTO mission.Success
33 1 May 2017 KSC LC-39A FTNROL-76Classified NRO mission.Success
32 30 Mar 2017 KSC LC-39A FTSES-10GTO mission.Success
31 16 Mar 2017 KSC LC-39A FTEchoStar 23GTO mission.Success
30 19 Feb 2017 KSC LC-39A FTDragonCRS-10, Resupply of ISS.Success
29 14 Jan 2017 VAFB SLC-4E FTIridium NEXTLaunch of ten Iridium comsats.Success
-- ----------- 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.Launch vehicle 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

CCAFS SLC-40 = Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 40.
VAFB SLC-4E = Vandenberg Air Force Base, Space Launch Complex 4E.
KSC LC-39A = Kennedy Space Center, Space Launch Complex 39A.

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

SpaceX Falcon Heavy illustration

Falcon Heavy

Illustration showing comparison of Falcon Heavy and Space Shuttle.
SpaceX Falcon Heavy and Space Shuttle comparison.
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The Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift launch vehicle based on Falcon 9 technology. The rocket features a modified Falcon 9 first stage, with two additional stages used as strap-on boosters. The second stage and fairing is similar to those used on the existing Falcon 9.

For most payloads, the three booster stages will be recoverable.

First Test Flight

The first Falcon Heavy test flight was flown on 6 Feb 2018. The successful mission was launched from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center and placed the payload, a Tesla roadster, into a heliocentric orbit with an aphelion beyond the orbit of Mars. Attempts were made to recover all three boosters. Each of the side boosters returned to successful landings at Cape Canaveral. The planned core stage landing, on a barge at sea, failed. Both side boosters were making their 2nd flight, each having launched payloads on previous missions.

Future Uses

Future payloads may include large communications satellites, Department of Defense payloads, and interplanetary missions.

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

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