SpaceX's Falcon 9: Rocket for the Dragon

July 5, 2015 – 04:34 pm
Dragon and Falcon 9 Second StageSpace Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida comes alive as the Merlin engines ignite under the Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule to orbit on Oct. 7, 2012.
Credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Rick Wetherington

Funding the fire

SpaceX first trumpeted the Falcon 9's existence in a press release in 2005. Then priced at up to $35 million per flight (today it's $61.2 million), the rocket was developed in response to customer demand, the company said.

At the time, SpaceX was developing the lighter Falcon 1 rocket, and planned to gradually increase capabilities with an "intermediate class" Falcon 5 launcher.

"However, in response to customer requirements for low-cost enhanced launch capability, SpaceX accelerated development of an [expendable launch]-class vehicle, upgrading Falcon 5 to Falcon 9, " the firm stated.

Early listed customers of the rocket included companies such as Bigelow Aerospace, Avanti Communications and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.

Engines Ignite for SpaceX Falcon 9 LaunchThe company was a winner of one of NASA's sought-after commercial orbital transportation services contracts, which was worth up to 8 million for SpaceX provided it met all its milestones. SpaceX is one of the awarded companies under NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The program, currently in the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CctCap) phase, aims to launch astronauts to the International Space Station using American vehicles by 2017.


Falcon 9's primary structure was finished in April 2007, and the first multiple engine firings took place in January 2008.

SpaceX spent the year testing the engines, culminating in a "full mission-length firing" in November of that year. In an update to its followers, the California-based company touted the rocket's ability to compensate for failed engines in flight — a selling point to customers.

"The test firing validated the design of SpaceX's use of nine engines on the first stage, as well as the ability to shut down engines without affecting the functioning of the remaining engines, " SpaceX wrote in November 2008.

"This demonstrates the ability of Falcon 9 to lose engines in flight and still complete its mission successfully, much as a commercial airliner is designed to be safe in the event of an engine loss. Like an airliner, the Falcon 9 engines are enclosed in a protective sheath that ensures a fire or destructive loss of an engine doesn't affect the rest of the vehicle."

SpaceX conducted a static fire of its Falcon 9 rocket on April 30, 2012. During the test, the nine Merlin engines that power the rocket's first stage were ignited for two seconds.
Credit: SpaceX

Taking flight

On Jan. 12, 2009, the Falcon 9 rocket rose to a vertical position at Cape Canaveral. It would be several months before the rocket soared into space, but SpaceX said...


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