Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX for the reliable and safe transport of satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. As the first rocket completely developed in the 21st century, Falcon 9 was designed from the ground up for maximum reliability. Falcon 9’s simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events -- and with nine first-stage engines, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown.
Falcon 9 made history in 2012 when it delivered Dragon into the correct orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station, making SpaceX the first commercial company ever to visit the station. Since then SpaceX has made a total of three flights to the space station, both delivering and returning cargo for NASA. Falcon 9, along with the Dragon spacecraft, was designed from the outset to deliver humans into space and under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is actively working toward that goal.
Falcon 9 delivers payloads to space aboard the Dragon spacecraft or inside a composite fairing.
Dragon carries cargo in the spacecraft’s pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk, which can also accommodate secondary payloads. In the future, Dragon will carry astronauts in the pressurized capsule as well.Learn More About Dragon
The payload fairing is for the delivery of satellites to destinations in low Earth orbit (LEO), geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and beyond.See Composite Fairing on Falcon Heavy
The second stage, powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine, delivers Falcon 9’s payload to the desired orbit. The second stage engine ignites a few seconds after stage separation, and can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into different orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems. Like the first stage, the second stage is made from a high-strength aluminum-lithium alloy.
- Burn Time
- 801kN180,000 lbf
Merlin Vacuum Engine
Falcon 9's second stage is powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine nearly identical to the first-stage engines, but modified to operate in the vacuum of space. Like the main Merlin engines, the vacuum engine is designed and manufactured in-house by SpaceX. The engine is designed to burn for about six minutes, and can be shut down and restarted multiple times as needed to deliver different payloads into different orbits. SpaceX's Merlin vacuum engine has the highest vaccum specific impulse (isp)--a measure of engine efficiency--of any American liquid oxygen/kerosene engine with a vaccum isp of 340 seconds. The engine is housed inside the rocket's interstage.
Merlin Vacuum Engine Test - MDCspacexchannel
The interstage is a composite structure that connects the first and second stages and holds the release and separation system. Falcon 9 uses an all-pneumatic stage separation system for low-shock, highly reliable separation that can be tested on the ground, unlike pyrotechnic systems used on most launch vehicles.
Falcon 9’s first stage incorporates nine Merlin engines and aluminum-lithium alloy tanks containing liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellant. After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are verified for full-thrust performance before the rocket is released for flight. Then, with thrust greater than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the rocket to space. Unlike airplanes, a rocket's thrust actually increases with altitude; Falcon 9 generates 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage flight to limit launch vehicle acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel.
- Burn Time
- Thrust At Sea Level
- 5,885kN1,323,000 lbf
- Thrust In Vacuum
- 6,672kN1,500,000 lbf
Nine Merlin Engines
With its nine first-stage Merlin engines clustered together, Falcon 9 can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission. Falcon 9 is the only launch vehicle in its class with this key reliability feature.
The nine Merlin engine Octaweb
Dragon is a fully autonomous spacecraft designed to transport cargo and ultimately people to and from orbit.Learn More
Dragon’s trunk supports the Dragon spacecraft during ascent to space, houses the solar panels and contains a cargo carrier designed to hold unpressurized cargo.Learn More
Falcon 9 Structure
Falcon 9’s walls are made of aluminum-lithium alloy, a material made stronger and lighter than aluminum by the addition of lithium.Learn More
Falcon 9 was designed from the beginning to be fully reusable, and carries landing legs which will land the rocket safely on Earth after takeoff.Learn More
The nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9 first stage are arranged in an Octaweb structure, with eight engines surrounding one center engine.Learn More
The Merlin engine that powers the first stage of Falcon 9 is developed and manufactured in-house by SpaceX.Learn More
- 68.4m224.4 ft
- 505,846kg1,115,200 lb
- Payload to LEO
- 13,150kg28,991 lb
- Launches to Date
- 6 of 6 successful
- 3.7m12 ft
Payload to GTO
- 4,850kg10,692 lb
Recent Falcon 9 Milestones