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Discovering SpaceX

Discovering SpaceX: Falcon Rocket Family

Discovering SpaceX: Fleet of Recovery Ships

Discovering SpaceX: Dragon Spacecraft

Discovering SpaceX: Starlink Satellite Constellation

Discovering SpaceX: Super Heavy Starship




Founded in 2002, American aerospace company and manufacturer SpaceX is the world’s leading provider of launch services and the only provider with an orbital class reusable rocket.

Since its founding 20 years ago, SpaceX has developed three launch vehicles: Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

SpaceX has made space history numerous times in its race to reach the stars. And it all began 14 years ago, when the company achieved its first successful launch with the Falcon 1 rocket in September 2008.

More than a decade ago, SpaceX’s founder, CEO and chief engineer Elon Musk wanted to make 100% reusable orbital rockets. That meant a safe and reliable recovery of each first-stage rocket booster, payload fairing (or SpaceX Dragon spacecraft), and the second-stage, all of which would be re-used on future launch missions after cleaning and refurbishment.

It took just a few years for Elon Musk to accomplish his dream, which at that time, was scoffed at even by the most experienced players in the space industry.

Today, flying powerful rockets into Earth orbit and recovering and refurbishing them for reuse on another mission has become routine for SpaceX, who moved ahead and created unthinkable cutting-edge rocket technology to substantially reduce launch costs while the rest in the American and international space industry have stuck to building and launching expendable (or single-use) rockets.

The Falcon rocket family has completely revolutionized spaceflight and space exploration. Elon Musk named it after the Millennium Falcon ship from “Star Wars” movie, and it has lived up to its name.

Defying clouds and rain, SpaceX’s two operational rockets – the extraordinary Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy – successfully launch humans and cargo to all kinds of orbit, and return to make a safe landing on Earth.

Till date, SpaceX has totalled 203 launches. Its first rocket, Falcon 1 was launched 5 times with two consecutive successes before it was retired.

Falcon 9 is SpaceX’s workhorse rocket. A pioneer of SpaceX’s reusability program, the 70-metre-tall rocket with nine engines generates more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level.


SpaceX first launched Falcon 9 launch in June 2010. As of 1 January, 2023, it has accomplished 194 Falcon 9 launches.

After completing 18 successful launches, Falcon 9 failed for the first time in June 2015, on an International Space Station supply mission (CRS-7) for NASA. Thereafter, it successfully launched nine missions until the pre-flight failure of a rocket during a static fire test in September 2016, which caused an explosion that completely destroyed the rocket, the launch pad, and the Amos-6 satellite payload. As it happened before launch, the second failure is not included in the launch tally.

Since the ill-fated Amos-6 mission, Falcon 9 has completed a record-setting run of 170 successful missions in a row.

SpaceX’s second and far larger lift capacity reusable rocket, the  Falcon Heavy is composed of three strapped-together Falcon 9 boosters with 27 engines, which together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at sea level, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft.

Falcon Heavy was first launched in February 2018. As of 1 January, 2023, it has made four launches, all successful.




SpaceX’s phenomenal rise to success is all thanks to Elon Musk’s strong determination to make his crazy ideas work. His extraordinary reusable rockets and spacecraft have completely changed the face of space exploration.

Both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are fully reusable except for the second-stage (or upper stage). Despite SpaceX’s best efforts, recovery of the rocket’s upper stage did not prove to be a worthwhile investment. Hence only the rocket nose cone (or payload fairing) is recoverable.

The first-stage booster, with a cluster of  nine powerful SpaceX Merlin engines and aluminium-lithium alloy tanks containing rocket propellant, is the largest and most expensive component comprising around 50-70% of the cost of building the two-stage rocket.

Recovery and reusability of the first stage is the single most important factor accounting for SpaceX’s significantly low rocket costs, which are the lowest in the world.

By landing the first-stage booster – the most expensive part of the rocket – and payload fairing halves, and reusing them multiple times, SpaceX has also been successful in lowering its launch cadence.

SpaceX’s cutting-edge rocket technology makes Falcon 9 successfully launch and land even in adverse weather conditions.

Using SpaceX’s cutting-edge satellite technology, the returning boosters make a safe touchdown on drone ships at sea even amid raging storms.

SpaceX’s goal is to make frequent launches to maximise rocket utilization and minimise costs, while maintaining a high safety level. The reliability of SpaceX’s reusable rockets has long been proven by the fact that SpaceX has not lost even a single mission on a reused first stage. The last Falcon 9 failure happened pre-launch on the Amos-6 mission in 2016 and at that time SpaceX had not re-flown any Falcon 9 booster.

SpaceX first started launching reused (or flown) boosters in 2017. That year, it made five launches with reused boosters. In 2022, a whopping 56 launches were achieved with reused boosters. In total, SpaceX has made 134 launches with a flown (or reused) booster, all with 100% mission success.

The Full Thrust series of Falcon 9 are the world’s first and only orbital class rockets capable of re-flight. Falcon 9 Full Thrust (sometimes called Falcon 9 version 1.2) was the first version of the Falcon 9 to successfully make a safe vertical landing. There have been four versions of Falcon 9 Full Thrust. The active version, Falcon 9 Block 5 was introduced in May 2018. Since then, it has flown 136 missions, all with 100% success.

There are three types of Falcon 9 boosters: Falcon 9 (F9), Falcon Heavy core (FH core) boosters, and Falcon Heavy side (FH side) boosters.

Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy side boosters are reconfigurable to each other. A Falcon Heavy core booster is manufactured with structural supports for the side boosters and cannot be converted to a Falcon 9 booster or Falcon Heavy side booster.

Even though its launch missions have become routine, SpaceX optimizes its rockets and operations to squeeze more performance and more cadence out of them. It has continued to push the boundaries of booster reuse.

All boosters in the active fleet are Falcon 9 Block 5, which was designed and slated to be used at least 10 times without any major refurbishment.  Six boosters have already flown 10 missions, two of them were expended after making 11 and 14 launches each.

B1058 is the Falcon 9 fleet leader with 15 launches and landings.

The booster made its debut with the historic Crew Demo-2 mission in May 2020. Since then, it has launched the maximum number of 779 spacecraft to orbit and also the maximum mass to orbit by a single 190,000 kg (420,000 pounds)–booster.

Next is B1060 with 14 launches since June 2020, followed by B1061 and B1062 with 11 launches each since November 2020.

Now that the Falcon 9 boosters are certified for 15 flights, SpaceX is working at certifying them for up to 20 flights to bring airline-like cadence to space.




SpaceX’s major weapon in the rocket-building industry is in-house manufacturing. Elon Musk, who is SpaceX’s chief designer as well as its CEO, is involved in virtually every technical decision. He’s responsible for SpaceX’s greatest space innovations: lean manufacturing, vertical integration and flat management.

SpaceX employs a high degree of vertical integration in the production of its rockets and rocket engines, which is rare in the aerospace industry. It not only manufactures rocket engines but also between 80 percent and 90 percent of the components for its rockets, engines and spacecraft.

Other space companies including the closest American competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA) have more than a thousand suppliers to make its end products.

SpaceX designs and builds its reusable rockets, spacecraft, principal avionics and all software in-house at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Originally constructed by Northrop Corporation to build Boeing 747 fuselages, the sprawling, three-storied facility not only serves as SpaceX’s primary manufacturing plant but also houses its office space and mission control.

Outside the headquarters, the first-ever Falcon 9 rocket booster that entered space, returned and landed on Earth in December 2015, is on permanent display.

SpaceX HQ remains one of the few facilities in the world where an entire launch vehicle or spacecraft comes together under one roof.

Spanning nearly 1 million square feet, the SpaceX factory currently produces more rocket engines than any other U.S. manufacturer.

SpaceX tests its rocket engines, vehicle structures, and systems at its 4,000-acre state-of-the-art rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.

Both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy operate on SpaceX’s powerful liquid-fuelled Merlin-1D engines, which are designed for recovery and reuse.



Rocket engine development

Rocket engine development is one of the longest sub-processes in the design of new rockets.

Rocket engines produce the force that lifts off the rocket. That force is called “thrust” and is measured in pounds in the U.S. and in newtons in the metric system.

Thrust can be explained through Newton’s third law of motion as: “If an object A exerts a force on object B, then object B must exert a force of equal magnitude and opposite direction back on object A.”

Rockets move forward by expelling gas backward at high velocity. This means the rocket exerts a large backward force on the gas in the rocket combustion chamber, and the gas therefore exerts a large reaction force forward on the rocket. This reaction force is called thrust.

Thrust is produced by burning a chemical mixture of propellants comprising a fuel and an oxidizer. Fuel is a substance that burns, oxidizer is what makes fuel burn.

The gauge for rating the efficiency of rocket propellants is specific impulse, stated in seconds. Specific impulse indicates how many pounds (or kilograms) of thrust are obtained by the consumption of one pound (or kilogram) of propellant in one second. Specific impulse is characteristic of the type of propellant, however, its exact value will vary to some extent with the operating conditions and design of the rocket engine.

Propellants can be solid, liquid or hybrid. In a liquid propellant rocket, the fuel and oxidizer are stored in separate tanks, and are fed through a system of pipes, valves, and turbo pumps to a combustion chamber where they are combined and burned to produce thrust. By controlling the flow of propellant to the combustion chamber, the engine can be throttled, stopped, or restarted.

Liquid propellants are of three types: petroleum, cryogens, and hypergols.

Petroleum fuels are those refined from crude oil and are a mixture of complex hydrocarbons, i.e. organic compounds containing only carbon and hydrogen. The petroleum used as rocket fuel is a type of highly refined kerosene, called RP-1. It is usually used with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

SpaceX’s Merlin rocket engines

Since its inception in 2002, SpaceX has developed a variety of liquid-propellant rocket engines running on RP-1 as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidizer. Its Falcon rockets have been powered by a series of Merlin engines designed for recovery and re-use.

There have been four versions of the Merlin engine: Merlin 1A, Merlin 1B, Merlin 1C and Merlin 1D.

Merlin 1A was the first among the series. This engine was used in Falcon 1’s first stage rocket. Hence, it became the base for further development of more advanced and sophisticated Merlin engines. Merlin 1B was developed next, and was followed by Merlin 1C.

Merlin 1C was first used as part of the unsuccessful third attempt to launch a Falcon 1. On September 28, 2008, Merlin 1C was used in the fourth flight, which became the first successful flight of Falcon 1. The engine went on to be fitted into the nine-engine Octaweb of Falcon 9’s first stage.

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.

For the second stage, Falcon 9 uses a single Merlin Vacuum engine which has a larger exhaust section and a significantly larger expansion nozzle to maximize the engine’s efficiency in the vacuum of space.

Single Merlin engine test…

The operational Falcon 9 is powered by Merlin 1D, which was developed in 2012 and first flown in 2013.

Merlin ID is not only less expensive to manufacture, but also less susceptible to combustion instability (which can blow an engine). Its reusability features include its ability to restart and shut down enabling the booster to return to Earth and land, and its regenerative cooling process which prevents melting on being subjected to high flame temperatures.

Merlin ID has undergone several improvements including reduction in the number of parts and increase in power and efficiency. It achieved performance upgrades in 2016, 2018 and 2020.

In May 2018, ahead of the first flight of Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, SpaceX announced that the 190,000 pounds goal had been achieved. The nine Merlin 1D engines together generate more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level, and 1.8 million pounds of thrust in vacuum.

The thrust of the Merlin 1D Vacuum is 220,500 pounds with a specific impulse of 348 seconds, the highest specific impulse ever (or the greatest efficiency ever of rocket propellants) for an American-made hydrocarbon rocket engine.

Merlin 1D has the highest thrust-to-weight ratio (meaning that it gives the highest rocket acceleration and thrust) of any rocket engine ever made, while still maintaining the structural and thermal safety margins needed to carry astronauts.

SpaceX is the world’s largest manufacturer of rocket engines. It produces hundreds of Merlin 1D engines every year and one Raptor engine per day for its new fully reusable Starship rocket.

The operational Falcon 9 Block 5 version rocket is equipped with the latest version Merlin 1D engine.




Measuring 70 m (229.6 feet) in height and 3.7 m (12 feet) in diameter, the two-stage Falcon 9 is the world’s first and only orbital class reusable rocket, manufactured and operated by SpaceX for the reliable and safe transport of people and payloads to Earth orbit and beyond.

The three main components of Falcon 9 are a reusable first stage with nine sea-level Merlin 1D engines, an expendable second stage with one Merlin 1D Vacuum and a reusable fairing (or nose cone).

The First Stage

The first-stage provides the initial kick to carry the rocket off of the ground and out of the atmosphere.

It has aluminium-lithium alloy tanks containing liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellant which power its nine Merlin 1D engines generating more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at lift-off.

During launch, the nine Merlin engines are gradually throttled near the end of first stage flight to limit rocket acceleration as the weight of the rocket (or the rocket’s mass) decreases with the burning of fuel. These engines are also used to reorient the first stage prior to atmospheric re-entry and to decelerate the first stage just before landing.

A massive metallic structure called Octaweb holds the nine first stage engines in place, each in their own separate bay – eight engines around the edge and one in the centre. This arrangement is the most efficient pattern possible for delivering power (thrust) and managing heat (thermal dynamics).  Its weight along with that of the nine engines, gives a landing first stage an extremely low centre of gravity.

The first stage has four landing legs made of state-of-the-art carbon fibre with aluminium honeycomb. Placed symmetrically around the base of the rocket, they are stowed at the base of the vehicle and deploy just before landing.


Falcon 9 inter stage (black), second stage (middle) & payload fairing (top)…


The Inter Stage

The Inter Stage is a composite structure that connects the first and second stages. It houses the pneumatic pushers that allow the first and second stage to separate during flight.


Four hypersonic aerodynamic grid fins, each carved from a single piece of cast titanium to withstand atmospheric re-entry heat, are positioned at the base of the inter stage. They control and orient the first stage during atmospheric re-entry by moving the centre of pressure as it returns to Earth.


The Second Stage

After stage separation, the second stage takes over to shuttle the Falcon 9 payload and deliver it to the desired orbit.

Payload is the cargo carried by the launch vehicle and includes crewed spacecraft, satellites, robotic spacecraft, scientific instruments, experiments, probes, landers, rovers, etc.

Falcon 9’s second stage is powered by a single Merlin Vacuum (MVac) engine, which generates more than 220,500 pounds of thrust in space. The engine ignites a few seconds after stage separation, and can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into different orbits.  MVac engine has a burn time of 397 seconds i.e. the engine can fire or produce thrust for that much time.

During launch, the satellite payload is protected by the rocket fairing (or nose cone). It shields the satellite cargo from the impact of dynamic pressure, acoustic effects and aerodynamic heating during launch through Earth’s atmosphere.

Once outside the atmosphere these effects are no longer experienced so the fairing is jettisoned. It splits into two halves, exposing the payload to outer space.

Normally, the fairing halves falls back to Earth where they either burn up in the atmosphere or get destroyed upon impacting the ocean.

SpaceX recovers its Falcon 9 fairings for re-use on future missions.  Like its reusable rockets, it builds the fairings in-house too. To cut down production costs, the fairing halves are recovered from sea to reuse them on later missions, thus reducing launch costs further.

Falcon 9’s payload fairing is a two-piece protective shell made of carbon composite material. It measures 43 feet (13.1 m) in height and 17.1 feet in diameter (5.2 m).

The clamshell-like nose cone comprises two dissimilar reusable halves. The first half (the half that faces away from the transport erector) is called the active half, and houses the pneumatics for the separation system. The other fairing half is called the passive half. As the name implies, this half plays a purely passive role in the fairing separation process, as it relies on the pneumatics from the active half.

The fairing separates from the second stage around three minutes after lift-off and the fairing halves fall down to Earth.

Like the first stage, each SpaceX fairing half is a fully capable re-entry vehicle with its own thrusters, thermal protection, avionics and sensor suite.

Both fairing halves are equipped with cold gas thrusters (or small engines) to orient themselves during their return to Earth and deploy a parafoil (or steerable parachute) to slow descent before reaching the ocean. They are scooped out of the water by the crane of a recovery ship stationed nearby.

SpaceX is currently flying two slightly different versions of the Falcon 9 fairing. The new “upgraded” version has vents only at the top of each fairing half, by the gap between the halves, whereas the old version had vents placed spread equidistantly around the base of the fairing. Moving the vents decreases the chance of water getting into the fairing, making the chance of a successful scoop significantly higher.

As Falcon 9’s nose cone, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is capable of carrying up to 7 people and/or cargo in the spacecraft’s pressurized section. In addition, it can carry cargo in the unpressurized trunk, which can also accommodate secondary payloads.

Falcon 9’s highest mass launched to low Earth orbit (LEO) has been 16,700 kg for Starlink satellites. The highest mass launched to GTO has been 7,350 kg for Intelsat Galaxy 33/34 satellites.

The maximum altitude reached by a Falcon 9 booster has been 247 km on the Formosat-5 satellite mission.



Most launch complexes or pads are built close to water bodies to ensure that should a failure occur, no components fall over populated areas. Moreover, the air is thicker at sea level so rockets require less fuel to lift off and reach a desired acceleration compared to high altitudes, where air is thinner and propulsion less efficient.

Each launch pad has a “lightning suppression system” around the rocket in the form of towers that redirect lightning in the immediate area. This essentially creates a Faraday cage, shielding the rocket from being fried by lightning.

As a result, lightning strikes have no effect on the rocket or satellite…

In SpaceX’s early days, all five launches of the retired Falcon 1 took place at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defence Test Site on Omelek Island, Kwajalein.

Currently, SpaceX has three orbital launch sites for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets and two ground landing zones for returning the rocket boosters.


 Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida

The historic LC-39A at Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral in Florida…

Kennedy Space Centre’s historic Launch Complex 39A was the launch site of NASA’s crewed spaceflight missions since the late 1960s with Saturn V launches during the Apollo program, and Space Shuttle launches since 1979.

On 14 April 2014, SpaceX signed a lease agreement that gave it a 20-year exclusive lease on LC-39A. Subsequently, SpaceX modified the pad, and built a new hangar nearby to support Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches.

In addition to commercial satellite launches and NASA’s cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, LC-39A is home to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program launches. SpaceX’s first crewed mission to the International Space Station under this program, Crew Demo-2, lifted off from LC-39A on 30 May, 2020.

All of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Dragon missions launch from LC-39A.

There have been 59 launches from this pad since the first launch on 19 February, 2017, when Falcon 9 lifted off with Cargo Dragon-1 on the CRS-10 resupply mission to the Internal Space Station for NASA.


Cape Canaveral, Florida

Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida…

Cape Canaveral Space Force Station is next door to Kennedy Space Centre’s LC-39A.

A Falcon 9 at SLC-40 (left) and another at LC-39A (right) with Dragon atop…

SpaceX has been using this site since 2010. Its location on the southeast coast of the US provides access to a wide range of low and medium inclination orbits frequently used by communications and Earth-observing satellites and by cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). It allows access to geostationary orbits, as well as departures to the Moon and interplanetary destinations.

The first launch from this pad took place on 4 June, 2010, with the very first Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket carrying a dummy Dragon-1 capsule on a test mission. Since then, there have been 107 launches from here, excluding the Amos-6 incident.

SLC-40 is SpaceX’s workhorse pad and the source of half of Falcon 9 launches in 2022.

The pad holds the record of the shortest time between launches: 5 days, 9 hours, 28 minutes. It happened in October 2022 with the Eutelsat Hotbird 13F and Starlink 4-36 missions.


Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) and Landing Zone-2 (LZ-2)

Landing Zone-1 and Landing Zone-2, also known as LZ-1 and LZ-2 respectively, are landing facilities on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for recovering SpaceX’s reusable rockets. They are built upon land (formerly Launch Complex 13) leased in February 2015.

Of the 23 landing attempts on LZ-1, one was unsuccessful. It was on the CRS-16 mission in December 2018, when the booster landed in ocean.

SpaceX built Landing Zone-2 at the facility to have a second landing pad, allowing two Falcon Heavy boosters to land simultaneously. All five landing attempts on LZ-2 have been successful.


Vandenberg, California

Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California…

SLC-4E was leased in 2011. The site’s location on the California coastline provides customers with access to high inclination and polar orbits, frequently used by satellite communication constellations, defence intelligence and Earth-observing satellites, and some lunar missions.

The first launch from his pad took place on 29 September, 2013 with the first Falcon v1.1 rocket carrying the CASSIOPE satellite to polar orbit. Since then, there have been 32 launches from here.


Landing Zone-4 (LZ-4)

In 2015, SpaceX converted the neighbouring Space Launch Complex – 4 West (SLC-4W) to build the Landing Zone-4 pad.

All the eight landing attempts on LZ-4 have been successful.





The job of the first stage is to boost the payload into orbit. After reaching orbit, the first stage separates and falls away from the second stage and payload, to begin its descent to Earth.

The returning booster makes a planned, controlled landing on a SpaceX landing zone near the launch pad or on a SpaceX drone ship out in the ocean, depending on its fuel levels.

A drone ship allows SpaceX to land boosters at sea on high-velocity missions that cannot carry enough fuel to allow for a return-to-launch-site landing.

No other space company can rival SpaceX’s high-quality live launch coverage. Hosted by SpaceX staff, the webcasts also provide launch details and statistics making it easily understandable for even a first-time viewer.


A Falcon 9 satellite launch mission goes as follows:

The final stages of the countdown begin at T-38 minutes when the launch director (LD) gives a go/no-go poll for loading the rocket with RP-1, a type of refined kerosene, and liquid oxygen (LOX).

Seven minutes before launch, the nine Merlin-1D engines on the first stage begin to chill down using LOX. Chilling the engines ensures there are no thermal shocks at ignition. The T/E retracts to its pre-launch position at T-4 minutes and 30 seconds.

With a minute left in the count, two major events take place. First, the flight computers enter their start up sequence, taking over the countdown. Second, Falcon 9’s tanks begin to pressurize to flight levels. The LD gives the final “go” for launch at T-45 seconds.

At T-3 seconds, the nine first-stage engines are commanded to ignite. A second later, the engines ignite and then begin a final health check. Once the engines are verified to be healthy and producing full thrust, the hydraulic hold-down clamps and the Transporter-Erector (T/E) retract.

At T-0, Falcon 9 lifts off, propelling its payload about 110 kilometres into space.

After lift-off, Falcon 9 climbs away from the launch pad…

The rocket’s trajectory is curved after launch with the rocket arching to orbit…

That’s because while flying, the rocket covers distance both horizontally and vertically – but only the latter is affected by the force of gravity, which bends the path of the projectile into a parabola.

Around 1 minute after lift-off, Falcon 9 goes supersonic i.e. travels faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1)…

Great shot of Falcon 9 going supersonic during Starlink 4-22 mission:


Around 15 seconds later, it’s time for the MAX-Q (maximum dynamic pressure) event, which is when the rocket passes through the maximum amount of aerodynamic pressure i.e. the point where the aerodynamic stresses on the rocket are at their peak.


After leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, three events take place in quick succession: Main Engine Cut-Off (MECO), Stage Separation and Second Engine Start (SES-1).

The first-stage rocket engines burn on till the MECO event, at which point the job of the first stage in launching the payload is complete.

MECO takes place around 2 minutes, 30 seconds after lift-off, moments after two of the first stage engines are shut down. At MECO, the remaining seven Merlin engines are shut down to slow down the rocket for the next event, Stage Separation which happens within a few seconds.

A few seconds after stage separation, the third event, Second Engine Start (SES-1), takes place with the second stage making the first of its two planned burns. Firing its single Merlin-1D Vacuum (MVac) engine, the second stage continues the ascent to orbit.

Next is payload fairing separation, which happens a few seconds after SES-1, more or less around 3 minutes after lift-off.

The two fairing shells or halves fall off, exposing to space for the first time the payload mounted to the forward end of the second-stage.

A GoPro inside a fairing from a Falcon 9 flight captured some spectacular views as it fell back to Earth…

View of Earth from second-stage onboard camera, with Starlink satellites at the forward end…

Falcon 9 fairing onboard camera captures second-stage plume, first-stage entry burn and Earth in twilight…

Designed to be reusable, the fairing shells return to Earth using cold gas thrusters (or small engines) to orient themselves and deploy a parafoil (or steerable parachute) to slow descent before reaching the ocean, where they are picked up by a recovery vessel stationed close by.

The second stage continues to burn for about 5 minutes and 30 seconds until it reaches a low parking orbit.

While the second stage is performing this burn to reach orbit, the returning first stage continues to follow its ballistic trajectory towards the landing pad with a series of propulsive burns from its main engines. It maybe two or three engine burns, depending on where the booster is landing.

For drone ship landings, the boosters fly down ballistically after MECO, and make two engine burns. The first burn is for them to survive atmospheric re-entry. The second burn begins just before landing. It slows the booster to a make a soft touchdown.

For Return-To-Launch-Site (RTLS) landings, the returning boosters first make a boost-back burn that slows their forward velocity and starts their reverse movement to the launch site. This is followed by the entry burn, and finally, the landing burn.

Shortly after the stage separation event, cold gas thrusters flip the first stage booster and the “boost-back burn” begins with the main engines igniting to set the trajectory towards the landing pad on Earth.

The four titanium grid fins of the booster are deployed moments after stage separation to steer the booster and control its movement as it coasts in space.

The “entry burn” starts around 6 minutes and 30-40 seconds from lift-off with the ignition of three of the booster’s nine engines to slow it as it enters the denser regions of Earth’s atmosphere. The entry burn lasts for roughly 20-25 seconds. Slowing down the booster during atmospheric re-entry reduces heating, which would otherwise damage the booster and hamper its re-use.

Braving clouds and winds, the 15-storey first stage descends unpowered. At an altitude of two kilometres and a speed of roughly 235 m/s, it extends its four-legged landing gear and ignites a single engine for a 20-second landing burn in a final braking manoeuvre just before making a soft touchdown on a prepared landing zone or drone ship close from where it launched.

The landing takes place more or less 8 minutes and 30 seconds after lift-off (or T+0:08:30).

While the first-stage is making a landing on Earth, the second-stage does the 1st Second Engine Cut-Off (SECO-1) event in orbit. After SECO-1, the second stage reaches a preliminary parking orbit. It coasts for around 25 minutes or more before re-igniting the MVac engine for the second burn. This is the 2nd Second Engine Start (SES-2) event. It’s a brief burn of a few seconds or more, depending upon the orbit to be achieved for payload deployment. The 2nd Second Engine Cut-Off (SECO-2) event takes place.

Some minutes after SECO-2, the payload separates from the second stage, completing the payload insertion in orbit. The mission is accomplished with the satellites deployed approximately 35-45 minutes after lift-off.

The time taken for satellite deployment after lift-off varies, depending on the mission. The second-stage usually makes two or three burns, but if the mission demands more for satellite deployment, it can do so before firing its engines for the final time on a de-orbit burn to drive itself back into Earth’s atmosphere for a destructive re-entry.

View from the International Space Station of Falcon 9 second-stage flying beneath…

Starlink on-board camera view of Falcon 9 second-stage deorbit burn (after satellite deployment), which enables the second stage to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, where it gets 100% burned and destroyed…

Falcon 9 launches Cargo and Crew Dragon to the International Space station following the same events as in satellite launches and returns to Earth. Around 12 minutes after lift-off, the second stage separates from the Dragon capsule, delivering the astronauts to orbit.

Crew Dragon separation:

Cargo Dragon separation:

Thereafter, Dragon performs a series of burns on its way to the ISS, reaching its destination at a targeted docking time.


Booster landing at sea

For booster recovery at sea, seven days prior to launch, one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships is towed by a tugboat from the port to the target position offshore in the ocean.

The drone ship is unmanned at all times, even during booster landing. It is equipped with remotely-operated firefighting hoses in case of an explosion or fire caused by a failed landing.  The water deluge can douse the flames in a short time.


The booster landing is observed by crew of the tugboat and support vessels, which are maintained at a safe distance. After landing on the drone ship, the booster is secured either manually or by an on-board robot “Octagrabber”.

Technicians disengage the thrusters of the drone ship and prepare it for the return journey. It is towed by the tugboat back to port.

The drone ship takes the booster back to the port to be prepared for a future flight.

Arrival at port…

Booster lifted by crane…

Hanging from the crane…

Lowered down and waiting to be transported back to the SpaceX hangar for refurbishment and re-use…

Arrival at the SpaceX hangar…

Inside the hangar, the booster is readied for the next launch…


Rocket nebula

A clear night provides the best view of Falcon 9 as it goes through the various stages of flight: lift-off, main-engine cut-off (MECO), stage separation, second-stage ignition and returning first-stage burns.

Under specific conditions, the exhaust gas plume of a rocket combined with atmospheric effects puts on an amazing show of light and clouds, resembling a planetary nebula.

In December 2017, the amazing rocket trail over LA following Falcon 9 launch, just after sunset…

The spectacular effect is produced following stage separation, when the two stages are each doing their own thing: the second stage is firing up and propelling the payload into orbit while the first stage is firing its engines to head back to Earth.

The first stage engine gives an orange glow while the second-stage vacuum engine radiates a bluish-purple light. When the two smash into each other, their interactions create a beautiful show in the dark sky.

It looks like a space jellyfish at twilight or the “blue hour”, which lasts 20-30 minutes just before sunrise and just after sunset.

Pre-dawn Falcon 9 jellyfish seen over Florida…

Post-sunset Falcon 9 jellyfish seen from Los Angeles…

In a return-to-land-landing, the flight trajectory makes the exhaust gas plume more prominent in the night sky.

A timelapse video from the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” showing the footage from Falcon 9’s launch and landing against the backdrop of the second-stage’s “jellyfish” and the first-stage booster’s entry burn.




Standing 229 feet (70 meters) tall and 40 feet (12.2 meters) wide, Falcon Heavy is the world’s most powerful reusable rocket.

The heavy-lift launch vehicle was introduced in February 2018 as the world’s most powerful rocket with the capacity to launch nearly 141,000 pounds into orbit. That’s the equivalent of a fully loaded 737 jetliner—complete with passengers, luggage and fuel—to orbit. And more than twice the payload of the next closest operational rocket, ULA’s Delta IV Heavy (introduced in 2004), and at one-third of the launch cost of Delta IV Heavy.

Falcon Heavy was the heaviest rocket to be launched from the U.S. since the retirement of the venerable Saturn V rocket of the Apollo moon missions.

In November 2022, NASA’s SLS moon rocket took over the title of the heaviest rocket.

Falcon Heavy is made up of three strapped-together Falcon 9 first stage boosters (a reinforced centre core and two additional side boosters) and a powerful second stage with the payload atop the central core. The side cores, or boosters, are connected on the nose cone, the inter stage, and on the octaweb.

It has 28 engines: nine sea-level Merlin 1D in each of the three strapped-together first stage boosters and one Merlin 1D Vacuum in the second stage atop the centre core.

The 27 Merlin 1D engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at lift-off which is thrice the total thrust of a Falcon 9 and equals to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft.

Falcon Heavy’s first stage is equipped with 12 landing legs (4 on each booster) made of state-of-the-art carbon fibre with aluminium honeycomb.

All 12 landing legs are stowed along the side of each booster until just prior to landing.

The inter stage is a composite structure that connects the centre core on the first stage and second stages and holds the release and separation system.

Falcon Heavy has 12 hypersonic grid fins (4 on each booster), positioned at the base of the inter stage or nose cone. They orient the first stage during atmospheric re-entry by moving the centre of pressure as it returns to Earth.

Falcon Heavy’s second stage and payload fairing are similar to that of Falcon 9.

Made of a carbon composite material, the 13.1 m (43 feet) tall and 5.2 m (17.1 feet) wide fairing protects the satellites on the way to orbit.

All Falcon Heavy missions take off from LC-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. After a Falcon 9 launch, LC-39A has to be readied by SpaceX ground teams for a Falcon Heavy launch as the heavy-lift launcher has a different configuration than the Falcon 9 with three Falcon rocket boosters connected together to triple its total thrust.

Shortly after lift-off, Falcon Heavy’s centre core engines are throttled down. After the side cores separate, the centre core engines throttle back up to full thrust.

After the main engines cut off (MECO) and the first stage separates, the second stage’s single Merlin 1D Vacuum engine delivers the Falcon Heavy payload to the desired orbit. The engine has a burn time of 397 seconds.

Of the three returning Falcon Heavy boosters, the side boosters make simultaneous landings in the recovery zone while the centre core lands on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. On challenging launches, the centre core is expended during the launch when the leftover propellant is not enough to recover it.

Landing of the two side boosters on SpaceX’s Landing Zone -1 and Landing Zone-2 after Falcon Heavy launch from LC-39A…

Landed boosters inside the SpaceX hangar…

Till date, Falcon Heavy has been launched four times, all with 100% success: Test mission in February 2018, Arabsat 6A mission in April 2019, STP-2 mission in June 2019 and USSF-44 mission in November 2022.

The highest mass launched to GTO has been 6,465 kg on the Arabsat 6A satellite mission, while the highest mass launched to GEO has been 3,700 kg on the USSF-44 mission for the U.S. Space Force.


First Falcon Heavy launch…

Falcon Heavy made its debut launch on 6 February, 2018. Being a test mission, the payload (or cargo) aboard was Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla Roadster with a SpaceX spacesuit-clad mannequin astronaut Starman at the wheel.

The red car inside the Falcon 9 fairing…

Two of the three first-stage boosters made successful touchdowns at Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, close to the Kennedy Space Centre within less than eight minutes after lift-off.

Falcon Heavy’s twin side boosters landing successfully after the rocket’s maiden flight…

The central core did not manage to achieve a drone ship landing and ended up hitting the ocean at high speed.

The Starman mannequin sits inside Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster with Earth in the background, shortly after Falcon Heavy’s launch…


Second Falcon Heavy launch…

The second Falcon Heavy launch on 11 April, 2019, was its first operational mission which delivered the Arabsat-6A communications satellite to orbit.

All three Falcon Heavy boosters – the centre core and two side boosters – landed for the first time on this mission.

Two made simultaneous landings in the recovery zone…

The centre core landed on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.


Third Falcon Heavy launch…

The third Falcon Heavy was launched on 25 June, 2019, carrying Space Test Program – 2 (STP-2), a cluster of lower-priority experimental satellites into orbit for the U.S. Air Force and LightSail-2 for the Planetary Society.

The STP-2 mission was a demonstration flight for the future long-duration USSF-44 mission and involved complex orbital manoeuvres to place 24 satellite payloads into three distinct orbits. It was to test the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy and its upper stage engine for the military to entrust the heavy launcher with more critical, and more expensive, operational national security payloads on future flights, such as the USSF-44 mission. The upper stage completed four burns over three-and-a-half hours.

With this launch, Falcon Heavy got certified for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program.

The only flaw in this otherwise perfect launch was the unsuccessful landing of the centre core which crashed in the water next to the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY).


Fourth Falcon Heavy launch…

The fourth mission, USSF-44, on 1 November, 2022, came after three years due to delay caused by the classified satellites of the U.S. Space Force.

Even as thick fog enveloped most of the Cape Canaveral area, Falcon Heavy blasted into orbit from LC-39A on one of SpaceX’s most demanding launches, to place the satellites to a high-altitude geosynchronous orbit.

The second stage flight profile included a coast lasting more than five hours between several burns to place the satellites into the target orbit, making it one of SpaceX’s most demanding launches yet.

On this mission, SpaceX used three newly-manufactured boosters. The challenging launch did not leave enough propellant to recover the centre core, so it was expended.

The two side boosters returned to near-simultaneous landings in SpaceX’s recovery zone at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

It was also the SpaceX’s 50th launch of 2022.


Upcoming Falcon Heavy launches…

Among a busy schedule of Falcon 9 missions in 2022, guaranteeing a cadence of one launch a week, SpaceX also has a backlog of twelve missions of Falcon Heavy.

The triple-core heavy-lifter offers payload lift capability greater than the Falcon 9 but below that of the next-generation SpaceX rocket, Starship.

Five of the twelve Falcon Heavy missions are scheduled to launch in 2023: U.S. Space Force’s USSF-67 and USSF-52 missions, NASA’s Psyche asteroid probe mission and two missions to launch large geostationary internet communications satellites for Viasat and EchoStar.

Four missions, all for NASA, have been slated for launch in 2024:

The GOES-U geostationary weather satellite, the Europa Clipper probe mission to explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, the Griffin lunar lander mission with VIPER robotic rover and the launch of the first two elements for building NASA’s planned Moon-orbiting space station – the Lunar Gateway.

NASA’s Artemis Program involves the Lunar Gateway, which will function as a pit stop for future moon missions. Falcon Heavy will launch the first two fundamental elements of the Gateway station: Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) and Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). Together, the pressurized cabin and the power source that keeps it operational and allows manoeuvring will form a self-sustaining lunar orbital habitat.

In July 2022, NASA selected Falcon Heavy to launch the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which is designed to study dark energy and dark matter, search for and image exoplanets, etc. The launch is targeted for 2026.

In 2028 and 2029, Falcon Heavy will launch two cargo resupply missions to the Lunar Gateway.




Falcon 1

Falcon 1 was the first rocket in the family of Falcon launch vehicles developed by SpaceX. It was an expendable two-stage, small-lift orbital launch vehicle developed by private funding with a capacity of launching approximately 420 kilograms of payload to low-Earth Orbit (LEO).


The 69 feet tall (21 meters) Falcon 1 rocket was powered by two SpaceX-developed liquid propellant rocket engines, Merlin-1C and Kestrel-2, using rocket grade kerosene (RP-1) as fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidizer.

The rocket’s first stage was powered by Merlin-1C and the second stage by Kestrel-2.

Since the booster was powered by a single engine, it was named Falcon “1.”

Falcon 1 was launched five times between 2006 and 2009 from the U.S. Army’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Defence Test Site on Omelek Island, a part of the Kwajalein Atoll about 2,500 miles (4,023 km) southwest of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

The first two Falcon 1 launches were purchased by the United States Department of Defence (DoD) under a program that evaluates new US launch vehicles suitable for use by DARPA (a defence research agency). The third was for DoD and NASA.

All three launches of Falcon 1 – in March 2006, March 2007 and August 2008 – ended in failures. It was a personal tragedy for Elon Musk because financing for his Tesla Motors had failed at the same time. So he and all his three companies – SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City were almost bankrupt. SpaceX was at a dying stage.

The Falcon 1 launch cost was about $8 million per flight. But the cost to develop and test the booster plus all three failed launches totalled around $100 million.

On 28 September, 2008, Falcon 1 was launched for the fourth time with a dummy payload. It was less than a month after the unsuccessful third test. The 165 kg dummy payload emblazoned with a rat logo, nicknamed Ratsat, was intended to stay in orbit that ranged from 310 to 434 miles (500-700 km) for about 5 to 10 years.

Fortunately for Elon Musk and SpaceX, the fourth launch was successful making Falcon 1 the first privately-developed and funded liquid fuel rocket to reach Earth orbit.

The launch success saved SpaceX from an early death. And within two months, in December, U.S. space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) awarded SpaceX its first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, which was responsible for the turnaround in the fledgling aerospace company’s fortunes.

The fifth launch was Falcon 1’s first and only successful commercial mission. It took place on 14 July, 2009, delivering to orbit a Malaysian Earth-observation satellite RazakSAT, and several other piggyback payloads.

After this mission, SpaceX retired Falcon 1 to allocate resources on the development of a larger Falcon 9 and other projects.


Development of Falcon 9

To serve growing market demand, SpaceX had already developed plans for a heavier rocket powered by Merlin engines using cryogenic liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) as propellants.

Initially, it had considered developing Falcon 5, but then dropped the plan and switched to developing Falcon 9 which uses a cluster of nine Merlin engines in the first stage and a single Merlin engine in the upper stage. Hence the name Falcon”9”.


Falcon 9 v1.0, the first generation of Falcon 9

The first version of the Falcon 9 was Falcon 9 v1.0, which was developed in 2005–2010 as part of the United States Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

Powered by Merlin-1C engines, Falcon 9 v1.0 made five launches between 2010 and 2013 before it was retired. All five were launched from SLC-40.

Falcon 9 v1.0 successfully reached orbit on the first attempt on 4 June, 2010. The test mission carried a dummy version of the SpaceX Cargo Dragon-1 capsule.

The second Falcon 9 launch on 8 December, 2010, carried the first SpaceX Cargo Dragon-1 capsule on a COTS-1 Demo mission.

The capsule orbited the Earth twice before re-entering the atmosphere to make a targeted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

With this, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch its Cargo Dragon spacecraft to orbit and safely recover it after an ocean splashdown.

The third Falcon 9 mission launched on 22 May, 2012, was a historic milestone for SpaceX. It was the COTS-2 Demo mission, which launched the first Cargo Dragon-1 to the International Space Station (ISS).

After launching into space, Dragon fanned out its solar panels. Powered by its 18 Draco thrusters, (or small rocket engines), it proceeded towards the space station.

On 25 May, after a three-day journey, Dragon got close enough to the space station for astronaut Don Pettit to use a 58-foot robotic arm to reach out and grab it.

SpaceX became the first private company to send a spacecraft to dock with the ISS. Dragon became the first private spacecraft to dock with the ISS.

The fourth Falcon 9 flight was launched on 8 October, 2012.

It was the first operational Cargo Dragon resupply mission (CRS-1) to the ISS.

Remarkably, the first stage suffered an engine shutdown during launch, but still got Dragon to orbit. A secondary Orbcomm payload was lost.

The fifth and the final Falcon 9 v1.0 launch was for the second operational Cargo Dragon resupply mission (CRS-2) to the ISS on 1 March, 2013.


Falcon 9 v1.1, the second generation of Falcon 9

In 2013, Falcon 9 v1.0 was replaced by an upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 series equipped with newly-developed Merlin-1D engines.

Falcon 9 version 1.1 was launched on 15 missions, of which the second-last mission (CRS-7) was unsuccessful. The first and the last mission was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the remaining fourteen missions were launched from Florida’s SLC-40.

The first mission was also SpaceX’s first mission from Vandenberg.


The first Falcon 9 version 1.1 launch…

The first Falcon 9 version 1.1 was launched on 29 September, 2013, carrying to orbit Canadian Space Agency’s Cascade, Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) space weather tracking satellite.

The CASSIOPE satellite launch mission was Falcon 9’s sixth launch and the first attempt at controlled booster landing. The Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Earth after a controlled re-entry through the atmosphere, but failed to survive the remaining journey intact, plunging into the ocean.


The first commercial satellite launch into a geostationary transfer orbit…

On 3 December, 2013, SpaceX launched a landmark 3.2-ton SES-8 communications satellite mission making its entry into the large commercial satellite market.

It was SpaceX’s first commercial satellite launch into a geostationary transfer orbit.

This was SpaceX’s second mission using the upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 series and the first flight using an enhanced version of the Falcon 9 v1.1 series.

To boost its capabilities for launching commercial satellites, the Falcon 9 rocket used on this mission was further upgraded. It was equipped with higher powered first stage Merlin-1D engines to provide more thrust.

The upgraded first stage was fitted with heat shielding and a restart capability as part of its developmental project for a completely reusable rocket launch system.

It had a larger 17-foot (5.1 m) payload fairing to fit in even the largest satellites, and a triple redundant avionics system (electronic system that can withstand two failures and continue working) for reliability.

The configuration of the first-stage engines, which were earlier in a three-by-three block, was changed into a circular “Octaweb” pattern with eight engines encircling the ninth to increase reliability and streamline the manufacturing process.


First deep space launch…

On 11 February, 2015, SpaceX launched its first mission to deep space with Falcon 9 carrying Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) – the space weather, space climate, and Earth observation satellite of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

DSCOVR’s mission was to monitor the sun for potentially dangerous geomagnetic storms.

The launch to interplanetary space lifting off from SLC-40…

A camera aboard Falcon 9’s second stage shared this view of Earth…

The second stage placed DSCOVR into an extremely elliptical initial orbit stretching more than 770,000 miles (1.24 million km) from Earth at its farthest point, which is more than three times greater than the Earth-Moon distance.

From there, DSCOVR spent the next 110 days getting itself into its operational orbit at the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 1, about 930,000 miles (1.5 million km) from Earth.

DSCOVR’s camera, the EPIC instrument, is pointed to the sun-lit side of Earth and takes pictures every two hours which are posted on the Internet the following day.


First major rocket failure…

Falcon 9 successfully launched Cargo Dragon-1 on CRS-3, CRS-4, CRS-5 and CRS-6 resupply missions to the ISS for NASA.

On the CRS-7 mission in June 2015, Falcon 9 suffered its first major failure. The Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated 139 seconds after lift-off. The Dragon capsule was ejected from the exploding launch vehicle but it continued transmitting data before it impacted with the ocean.

SpaceX grounded all its Falcon 9 rockets pending the definitive results of an investigation into what caused the crash. A faulty strut that secured a high-pressure helium bottle inside the second stage’s liquid-oxygen tank had failed mid-flight.


Winning the coveted NASA Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract…

SpaceX’s growing technical expertise soon gathered global attention. In 2014, SpaceX won 9 of the 20 contracts that were openly competed by aerospace companies around the world.

In September 2014, NASA awarded SpaceX the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract to finalize the development of the Crew Transportation System. In other words, the Crew Dragon development project. The contract included several technical and certification milestones:  an uncrewed flight test, a crewed flight test, and six operational missions after obtaining certification.


Winning U.S. military payload launch contracts…

In 2015, the Falcon 9 v1.1 was certified for National Security Space Launch (NSSL), allowing SpaceX to contract launch services to the U.S. Air Force for any payloads classified under national security.

It was a sweet achievement for SpaceX as the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) was a very important and long-sought customer. Until then, for nearly a decade, the market for US military payload launch had been monopolized by the large US launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) whose launch costs were exorbitant.

The following year, in April 2016, SpaceX won the first National Security Space Launch (NSSL) contract of the U.S. Air Force to launch its second GPS 3 satellite. The launch cost was approximately 40% less than the estimated cost for similar previous missions charged by ULA.

Continuing its success with classified military payloads, in August 2020, SpaceX won the second National Security Space Launch (NSSL) contract along with ULA in the competition to supply launches to the US military in the 2022–2027 timeframe.

The US Space Force (USSF) plans 30–34 launches during these five fiscal years. ULA will handle 60% of the launches, while SpaceX will handle the remaining 40% over the five-year period.


Developing and testing the first Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing (VTVL) flight test vehicle, Grasshopper…. 

SpaceX’s reusability test program started in late 2012 at SpaceX’s McGregor test facility in Texas.

To make reusable rockets, it was necessary to develop the software that would guide the rocket back to Earth autonomously. And for that SpaceX had to gather information through testing starting with low-altitude, low-speed aspects of the landing technology before moving on to high-velocity, high-altitude tests of the booster atmospheric return technology.

SpaceX designed and developed two Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing (VTVL) flight test vehicles, one for low-altitude and one for high-altitude, to test the technologies needed to return a rocket to Earth intact with a safe and accurate vertical landing on a prepared pad.

Grasshopper was the first VTVL flight test vehicle and was used for experimental suborbital technological research.

Standing 102 feet (31 metres) tall, Grasshopper was built on a Falcon 9 v1.0 first-stage fitted with one Merlin-1D engine and fixed landing legs.

It made eight test flights between September 2012 and October 2013.

On its eighth and final test flight in Octobe, 2013, Grasshopper flew to an altitude of 2,440 feet (744 meters) before making its eighth successful vertical landing.

To fly higher for testing manoeuvring the rocket in hover mode, the second VTVL flight test vehicle, the larger and stronger Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle (F9R Dev) was used.

Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle (F9R Dev) was built on the 40-metre-tall tank of a Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle fitted with three Merlin-1D engine and operational deployable lightweight landing legs.

F9R Dev made five flights between April and August 2014. It flew up to 3,280 feet (1,000 m) into the air before returning to Earth.

On the fifth launch in August 2014, the booster exploded due to a blocked sensor. Subsequently, SpaceX ended the reusability test program and developed its reusability technology on operational flights, which it had already begun doing in 2013.

The Grasshopper and F9R Dev tests were fundamental to the development of the SpaceX’s reusability rocket technology.


First controlled ocean landing of Falcon 9…

SpaceX achieved success at controlled landing for the first time on 18 April, 2014, on the ninth Falcon 9 mission which launched Cargo Dragon-1 to the ISS on NASA’s CRS-3 resupply mission.

The Falcon 9 first stage was equipped with landing legs for the first time. They were extended to simulate a landing upon touchdown, though into the water instead of a floating platform.

Landing legs stowed at the base of Falcon 9…

The successful controlled ocean landing was a stepping stone towards booster reusability.

Success was repeated in July 2014 during the ORBCOMM-1 mission, confirming that the returning booster is able consistently to re-enter from space at hypersonic velocity, restart main engines twice, deploy landing legs and touch down at near zero velocity.


Autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) landings…

One of the unique features of SpaceX’s rocket reusability program is the use of drone ships to land and recover first-stage boosters from orbital space.

On challenging launches which require delivery of heavy payloads or delivery of payloads to higher orbits, returning boosters do not have sufficient fuel to land on the pad close to the launch site. In such cases, the returning boosters are landed on prepared floating platforms at sea called autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS). In case of zero fuel, the booster is expended.

During the early stage of the program, between 2013 and 2015, SpaceX would land Falcon 9 boosters in the ocean with the aim of recovering and reusing them on future flights to substantially minimise launch costs. The result was a mix of success and failure, and it all happened in a safe environment.

SpaceX started making drone ship landings from 2015 onwards with the first attempt in January 2015.

Today, SpaceX has three drone ships for booster recovery in the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean: Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY), Just Read The Instructions (JRTI) and A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG).

Till date, SpaceX has made 172 booster landing attempts, out of which 160 have been successful.

Out of 135 landing attempts made on drone ship, 125 have been successful.

Out of 36 landing attempts made on ground recovery zones, 35 have been successful.

SpaceX has made 85 successful landings in a row since the Starlink v1-17 mission in March 2021.


The Full Thrust series of Falcon 9

The Full Thrust series of Falcon 9 (sometimes called Falcon 9 version 1.2) are the world’s first and only orbital class rockets capable of re-flight.

There were four different Full Thrust rocket versions before the fifth and final version, which is currently in use – the Falcon 9 Block 5.

Introduced in 2015, the first version of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust was the first to successfully make a safe vertical landing. It was an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 v1.1. Changes included a larger fuel tank, uprated engines and super-cooled propellant and oxidizer to increase performance. These upgrades brought a 33% increase in performance.


All Falcon 9 Block 1 to 4 rocket boosters were flown on two missions each. Thereafter, they were either retired or expended.

Block 4 was a test version. It included new hardware like titanium grid fins later used for the next and final major version of the Falcon 9 Block 5.


First-ever Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing of an orbital-class booster…

The first variant of the upgraded Falcon 9 Full Thrust was used for the first time on 21 December, 2015, launching the ORBCOMM-2 satellite from SLC-40, Florida.

It was the 20th Falcon 9 launch mission and the first launch following the catastrophic failure of the Falcon 9 second stage on the CRS-7 mission, six months earlier.

The ORBCOMM-2 mission created history for achieving the unthinkable.

On that day, 21 December, 2015, for the first time in aerospace history, a rocket took off vertically from its launch pad, pierced the boundary of space and sent its cargo of 11 commercial satellites to low Earth orbit at about four times the speed of sound, while its first stage made an aerial somersault, re-oriented itself mid-air to return to Earth, executed a controlled re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere, and gently landed upright at the landing zone, not far from the launch pad, around 9 minutes and 45 seconds from lift-off.

It was a historic moment in the history of SpaceX and rocketry.

Mission webcast:

SpaceX had succeeded in landing its Falcon 9 booster from orbital space for the first time and on the first attempt to recover the returning booster on ground. Till then, SpaceX had made unsuccessful attempts at landing returning boosters on drone ships, but never attempted to land one on ground.

“It’s a revolutionary moment,” Musk told reporters after the landing. “No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact.”

The Falcon 9 booster making its first successful controlled ground landing…

The first-ever Falcon 9 rocket booster that entered space, returned and landed on Earth…

SpaceX honoured the historic “first-ever first stage to be recovered in the entire history of spaceflight” by placing it on display outside the company’s factory and headquarters at Hawthorne, California.


First-ever booster landing on a drone ship…

SpaceX’s first attempt to land on a drone ship took place in January 2015. The landing attempt ended in an explosion.

The second landing attempt was in April 2015. The rocket tipped over gently and exploded spectacularly.

The third attempt in January 2016, was particularly sad. The rocket settled down to a perfect landing, but one of the landing legs failed to lock in place. The rocket tipped over and blew up again.

In March 2016, the rocket had launched an SES-9 satellite towards geostationary orbit and had less fuel to make a slow descent. It landed too fast and the fourth attempt ended in an explosion as well.

Despite these repeated failures, Elon Musk did not give up on the brilliant venture. SpaceX continued working upon its success.

A month later, on 8 April, 2016, SpaceX achieved its first successful drone ship landing.

It was after Falcon 9 launched from Florida’s SLC-40 pad, sending Cargo Dragon-1 to the International Space Station on its 8th resupply mission (CRS-8).

The cargo included an inflatable space station module, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.

The returning Falcon 9 first stage booster touched down softly on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

On the next Falcon 9 launch in May 2016, SpaceX landed the first-stage booster on its drone ship after sending a heavy satellite JSCAT-14 to a higher geostationary orbit.

Thereafter, SpaceX made reusability a habit, recovering and reusing the boosters each time.

Enjoy this hilarious SpaceX video celebrating its booster landing failures as well:


Second major rocket failure…

On 1 September, 2016, SpaceX experienced its second major rocket failure when a Falcon 9 exploded on the launch pad during a propellant filling operation for a standard pre-launch static fire test. The launch payload was an Israeli AMOS-6 communication satellite to be placed into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

After the rocket explosion, SpaceX went into a four-month launch hiatus to investigate what went wrong. The next launch took place in January 2017.

Since this rocket failure, SpaceX has been successful in all its launches till date. At 169, it holds the longest streak of orbital launches by any rocket model in aerospace history.

In August 2019, SpaceX launched the Israeli satellite operator Spacecom’s AMOS-17 satellite cost-free to cover the latter’s loss of AMOS-6 satellite.


First re-flown orbital rocket, first landing of a re-flown orbital rocket, first fairing recovery…

On 30 March, 2017, SpaceX launched a flown Falcon 9 booster for the first time on the SES-10 communications satellite mission, which lifted off from LC-39A pad.

The “flight-proven” Falcon 9 booster was the very same booster that had achieved SpaceX’s first successful drone ship landing in April 2016.

After launching the SES-10 commercial satellite to orbit, the returning booster made a gentle touchdown on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY)…

The SES-10 launch mission achieved three “firsts” for SpaceX and aerospace history:

The world’s first re-flight of an orbital class rocket, the first landing of a reused orbital class rocket and the first recovery of an intact payload fairing half.


First U.S. national-security payload launch…

On 1 May, 2017, SpaceX achieved another first when it launched the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-76 satellite to orbit.

The NROL-76 launch marked a milestone as the first SpaceX launch fully dedicated to a classified mission, and the first since the U.S. Air Force cleared the company to take on national security space projects in 2015.

The lift-off from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida officially ended close competitor United Launch Alliance’s monopoly on spy satellite launches.


Launch of the first reused Cargo Dragon-1 to the ISS…

On 3 June, 2017, Falcon 9 launched a flown Dragon-1 capsule on its second trip to the ISS on NASA’s 11th resupply mission (CRS-11).

With the successful mission, SpaceX Dragon became the first spacecraft capable of making repeat trips to the ISS since the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011.


SpaceX, the world’s number one aerospace company…

By March 2018, SpaceX had more than 100 launches on its manifest representing about US$12 billion in contract revenue from both commercial and government (NASA/DoD) customers, making it the leading global commercial launch provider.

On 24 October, 2020, SpaceX completed its 100th successful flight since Falcon 1 first flew to orbit in 2008.


First deep space observation satellite…

On 18 April, 2018, Falcon 9 launched NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) sending it to orbit on a highly elliptical path that takes it nearly as far out as the moon at its most distant point.

TESS before getting enclosed in the Falcon 9 fairing…

It was SpaceX’s first deep space observation satellite launch.



Block 5 is the latest iteration of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters. Changes include a stronger heat shield, upgraded engines, new carbon composite sections (landing legs, engine sections, raceways, RCS thrusters and inter stage), retractable landing legs, titanium grid fins, and other additions that simplify refurbishment and allow for easier reusability.

The operational Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket was unveiled on 11 May, 2018.

On that day, it made its debut with the orbital launch of Bangladesh’s first communications satellite, Bangabandhu-1.

The booster was reused within three months to launch an Indonesian Telkom-4 satellite in August 2018.


Launch of the uncrewed Crew Dragon test mission to the ISS for NASA …

On 2 March, 2019, Falcon 9 launched an uncrewed Crew Dragon to the International Space Station on its first demonstration mission called the Crew Demo-1 mission.

The next day, SpaceX Dragon became the first American spacecraft to autonomously dock with the ISS.

After its stay at the space station, the spacecraft successfully splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, completing its mission and demonstrating SpaceX’s capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.


Launch of Crew Dragon’s In-Flight Abort mission…

On 19 January, 2020, SpaceX successfully completed an in-flight test of Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities. This test, which did not have NASA astronauts aboard the spacecraft, demonstrated Crew Dragon’s ability to reliably carry crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent.

Falcon 9 and Dragon lifted off with the abort sequence initiating approximately one and a half minutes into flight. Crew Dragon’s eight SuperDraco engines powered the spacecraft away from Falcon 9 at speeds of over 400 mph. Following separation, Dragon’s trunk was released and the spacecraft’s parachutes were deployed, first the two drogue parachutes followed by the four upgraded Mark III parachutes. Dragon safely splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and teams successfully recovered the spacecraft onto SpaceX’s recovery vessel.


Creating history with the launch of the crewed Crew Dragon test mission to the ISS for NASA …

On 30 May, 2020, SpaceX created history when Falcon 9 successfully launched a crewed Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS on the historic Crew Demo-2 test mission.

Crew Dragon’s test flight with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board the spacecraft marked the return of U.S. human spaceflight and the first time in history a commercial company successfully transported NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and back home to Earth.

The successful Crew Demo-2 mission accomplished SpaceX’s main goal of returning human spaceflight to America, which had till then totally depended on Russia for nearly nine years.

This was the first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011.

Shortly thereafter, Falcon 9 Block 5 received certification for human spaceflight. It also underwent some major changes.

To increase the amount of flight each booster could handle, and decrease the turnaround time, SpaceX reinforced Falcon 9’s landing legs, upgraded the grid fins, and added a carbon fibre inter stage. Heat-resistant external paint was added, and the engines were upgraded.


Launch of the operational Cargo Dragon & Crew Dragon missions to ISS for NASA…

After the historic Demo-2 test mission, Falcon 9 has launched Crew Dragon to the ISS on five NASA Commercial Crew missions: Crew-1, Crew-2, Crew-3, Crew-4 and Crew-5.

Falcon 9’s Crew-5 launch mission in October 2022:


Falcon 9 launched the operational Cargo Dragon to the International Space Station for the first time on 6 December, 2020…

It was for NASA and SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-21) mission, which marked the first launch for SpaceX under NASA’s CRS-2 contract.

Since then, Cargo Dragon has made six cargo missions till the CRS-26 in November 2022.


First “rideshare” satellite mission and a new record…

Earlier, SpaceX would launch a fleet of tiny CubeSats belonging to various small satellite operators that were charged at a lower cost for their “rideshare” than the main satellite riding in the upper stage of the same rocket.

Dedicated Falcon 9 rideshare missions were introduced for the first time with the launch of Transporter-1 mission on 24 January, 2021.

The mission carried 143 small “rideshare” satellites for a variety of customers, setting a new record for the maximum number of spacecraft sent to orbit at a time.

Since then, SpaceX has launched five dedicated rideshare missions, the most recent being Transporter-5 in May 2022.

In October 2022, SpaceX lowered the minimum mass for spacecraft to fly on Transporter missions from 200 kilograms to 50 kilograms.


Launch of Crew Dragon on the world’s first “all-civilian” human spaceflight to orbit…

On 16 September, 2021, Falcon 9 launched Crew Dragon on the world’s first “all-civilian” human spaceflight mission to orbit.

Named as the Inspiration4 mission, the historic human spaceflight had Crew Dragon and its four passengers circling Earth for three days, zooming about 590 kilometres (367 miles) above Earth, at an altitude higher than any human has achieved since a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission in 1999. The International Space Station orbits at an average altitude of 400 km (250 miles).

It was a “fund-raiser” mission sponsored and commanded by Jared Isaacman, billionaire CEO and founder of Shift4Payments, a payment processing company.  The mission’s objective was to raise substantial money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Inspiration4 mission became the first crewed orbital spaceflight with no professional astronauts on board and no direct government agency involvement.

Later, on 14 February, 2022, Jared Isaacman announced his purchase of three spaceflights from SpaceX to form the Polaris Program. The first two flights will use Crew Dragon, while the third flight is planned to be the first crewed Starship flight.


Launch of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft…

On 24 November, 2021, Falcon 9 launched on a first-of-its-kind planetary defence mission for NASA from SLC-4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

It sent NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft on a one-way trip to intentionally crash into a distant asteroid and shift its orbit to test technology for defending Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards.

DART’s target was the moonlet, Dimorphos, which is approximately 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter. The moonlet orbits Didymos, which is approximately 2,560 feet (780 meters) in diameter.

Since Dimorphos orbits Didymos at much a slower relative speed than the pair orbits the Sun, the result of DART’s kinetic impact within the binary system can be measured much more easily than a change in the orbit of a single asteroid around the Sun.

LICIACube, a CubeSat riding with DART and provided by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), was released prior to DART’s impact to capture images of the impact and the resulting cloud of ejected matter.

On 26 September, 2022, the test mission was successfully accomplished.

Following impact, the Hubble Space Telescope made 18 observations of the binary asteroid system. Two tails of dust ejected from the system were seen in the images from the telescope. On 11 October, 2022, NASA confirmed that the DART mission impact changed Dimorphos’s motion in space. It marked humanity’s first time in purposely changing the motion of a celestial object and the first full-scale demonstration of asteroid deflection technology.

In October 2024, Falcon 9 will launch ESA’s (European Space Agency) Hera mission, which will conduct detailed surveys of both asteroids, with particular focus on the crater left by DART’s collision and a precise determination of Dimorphos’ mass.


Launch of NASA’s IXPE telescope for observation of black holes…

On 9 December, 2021, Falcon 9 lifted off from LC-39A to launch NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) telescope that will observe black holes and provide more insight into how they work.

IXPE is the first satellite capable of measuring the polarization of X-rays that come from cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.


SpaceX’s 100th rocket landing…

On 21 December, 2021, after Falcon 9 launched Cargo Dragon to the ISS on the CRS-24 mission, the first stage landed on the Just Read the Instructions drone ship, marking the 100th successful landing of an orbital class rocket booster.

On that day, six years ago, SpaceX had successfully landed an orbital class rocket booster for the first time.


Launch of Crew Dragon on the world’s first all-civilian crew mission & first commercial mission to the ISS…

On 8 April, 2022, SpaceX created space history yet again, sending an all-civilian crew on a commercial flight to the ISS for the first time.

The Ax-1 mission was the first non-government, fully commercial flight to the ISS and the first of several private crewed missions contracted by Axiom Space, a privately-owned space company from Houston, Texas.

The trailblazing mission was to help pave the way to Axiom Space’s space laboratory. It was organized by Axiom Space under a commercial agreement with NASA, and was operated by Axiom Space’s mission control centre in Houston.

The crew comprised a retired NASA astronaut and three wealthy civilians from different countries – USA (2), Israel and Canada.

The landed booster returned to the launch pad quicker than any other booster. It was the fastest port recovery ever.

On 29 April, the booster was launched again on the Starlink 4-16 mission, breaking the record for the fastest Falcon 9 booster turnaround time between two launches at 21 days, 6 hours, 16 minutes.


Launch & landing of three Falcon 9 missions in 36 hours…

On 19 June, 2022, SpaceX made history launching and landing three Falcon 9s in 36 hours, the fastest three-flight cadence for an orbit-class rocket in modern space history.

The record triple-header started with a dedicated Starlink mission from the Kennedy Space Centre, followed by a German radar satellite from Vandenberg, California and ended with a Globalstar communications satellite from Cape Canaveral.

These three SpaceX launches from three SpaceX launch pads helped SpaceX chalk up its 158th, 159th and 160th Falcon 9 flights in just 36 hours and 18 minutes.

Six months later, on 17 December, 2022, SpaceX successfully launched three Falcon 9s in 34 hours, breaking its own world record for the fastest time to complete three launches of the same rocket in 33 hours and 46 minutes.

SpaceX’s latest hat trick began on December 16th with a Falcon 9 launch of the joint US-French Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission from Vandenberg, California.

A little over 11 hours later, a second Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral carrying the first two Boeing-built O3b mPOWER satellites for satellite communication provider SES. As usual, SpaceX’s workhorse rocket performed an outstanding job that exceeded its contracted parameters. It reduced the amount of time and propellant required by each 1.7-ton (~3750 lb) mPOWER satellite to reach its operational orbit, potentially ensuring a quicker path to revenue generation and longer useful lifespans.

Finally, less than a day later after O3b mPOWER 1&2, a third Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre on the Starlink 4-37 mission.

All three boosters successfully landed after their respective orbital launch. After the Starlink mission, Falcon 9 booster B1058 became the Falcon fleet leader with 15 orbital launches and landings, breaking SpaceX’s internal reuse record and pushing the limits of its reusability technology even further.


SpaceX’s first five-engine-burn mission…

On 11 September, 2022, SpaceX launched its first five-engine-burn mission to deploy payloads in orbit.

Depending upon the mission, Falcon 9’s upper stage (or second stage) usually carries out two or three engine burns for payload deployment and a de-orbit burn in a final manoeuvre to drive itself back into Earth’s atmosphere for a destructive re-entry.

On this mission, the upper stage fired its engines four times to deploy AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite and 34 Starlink satellites into two distinct orbits before firing its engines for the fifth and final time to de-orbit into Earth’s atmosphere for a destructive re-entry.

It was also SpaceX’s heaviest (BlueWalker 3 weighed 3,300 pounds (1,500 kilograms)) rideshare payload ever.

About 8.5 minutes after launching the satellites, the Falcon 9 first stage returned to Earth for a pinpoint landing on the company’s drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a record-breaking 14th landing for the booster.


Future Falcon 9 launches for Northrop Grumman to support its launch-orphaned Cygnus spacecraft’s resupply missions to the ISS for NASA

In August 2022, Northrop Grumman announced its purchase of three Falcon 9 launches with SpaceX, beginning in the second half of 2023, to continue its Cygnus spacecraft’s cargo deliveries to the International Space Station for NASA.

SpaceX’s reusable Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s (through its acquisition of Orbital ATK in 2018) single-use Cygnus were selected by NASA in 2008 for the delivery of cargo and supplies to the ISS under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program.

Northrop Grumman’s decision to partner with SpaceX came months after the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which immediately threw the future of its Antares rocket into question.

Northrop Grumman only manufactures the second stage Castor 30XL of Antares and the service module of Cygnus. Rest all major Antares-Cygnus components are built by different companies including those in Russia and Ukraine.

The silver pressure vessel of Cygnus is built by Thales Alenia Space, the payload fairing is built by RUAG, the Antares booster engines are supplied by Russia’s NPO Energomash, and the Antares booster structures are built by Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye SDO and Yuzhmash.

To save its launch-orphaned Cygnus spacecraft, Northrop Grumman has partnered with SpaceX for Falcon 9, and with US startup Firefly Aerospace, which will build a domestic replacement for the Antares first stage. The upgraded Antares is going to be ready by end of 2024.


Future Falcon 9 launches for European Space Agency (ESA)…

In October 2022, European Space Agency (ESA) announced its purchase of two Falcon 9 launches. While the Euclid mission is planned for 2023, the Hera asteroid mission is scheduled for October 2024.

The Euclid mission will explore the evolution of the dark Universe. It will make a 3D-map of the Universe (with time as the third dimension) by observing billions of galaxies out to 10 billion light-years, across more than a third of the sky.

The Hera mission will send back to Earth the first close-up images of Dimorphos since its orbit was shifted by NASA’s DART spacecraft in September 2022. It will also study the asteroid Dimorphos and perform radio science experiments using an innovative deep-space transponder and a high-gain antenna.


Launch of the first privately-led Japanese mission to land on the lunar surface…

On 11 December, 2022, SpaceX launched ispace’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1, Japan’s first-ever lunar mission and the first of its kind by a private company.

Measuring just over 2 by 2.5 meters, the Japanese spacecraft has a payload that includes a 10-kg United Arab Emirates-made rover that could become the Arab world’s first lunar mission. The ispace Moon lander will attempt retrieval of a small sample of lunar regolith and after providing imagery and date of the collected material, ispace will transfer ownership to NASA.

The mission payload also included NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Lunar Flashlight with green propellant to look for water at the South Pole, destined to a lunar near-rectilinear halo orbit similar to NASA’s planned Lunar Gateway space station.

The payload before getting enclosed in the Falcon 9 fairing…

For the first time, the returning booster landed on LZ-2 pad…

Falcon 9 boosters have always landed on LZ-1 pad. But that day, the pad was occupied by another landed booster so the smaller LZ-2 was used.


Launch of a joint US-French SWOT satellite mission…

On 16 December, 2022, SpaceX launched a joint US-French Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite into orbit to study the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans.

The Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California placed the 2.2-ton (~4850 lb) radar satellite of NASA and French space agency CNES into a low Earth orbit that will allow it to precisely analyze virtually every inch of exposed water on Earth.

Deployment of SWOT…

That unprecedented capability should make it easier for scientists to study and understand Earth’s water cycle, as well as humanity’s substantial impact on those processes.


A legendary journey for a legendary tournament, from space to kick off…

SpaceX gave two FIFA World Cup 2022 official match balls the ultimate kick — all the way to outer space. Packed inside the Falcon 9 first stage, the white, blue, red and yellow footballs reached 123 km (76 miles) above Earth and then descended with the booster back to a SpaceX drone ship, where they completed the first leg of their 800-mile (1,300-km) trip. The balls were then flown by Qatar Airways to Hamad International Airport, where they were handed off to World Cup officials.

The match balls, which were made by Adidas for the World Cup, are the first to use sustainable water-based glues and inks.


No other rocket, no other space company in the world has achieved so much

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has totally shaken up the aerospace business, achieving several historic milestones within a short span of its development. It holds the record of most consecutive successful orbital launches by a rocket model. No other rocket in the world has ever achieved so much.

Since 2020, Falcon 9 has been the most experienced, active rocket in the United States. Globally, the still-flying Russian Soyuz and Proton rockets are more than four decades older than the Falcon 9 fleet. Since its debut in 1966, the Soyuz has more than 1,900 launches across about a dozen variants, with more than 100 failures.

In January 2022, Falcon 9 reached a notable US milestone, exceeding the tally of NASA’s Space Shuttle launches. During its more than three decades in service, the Space Shuttle launched 135 times, with 133 successes. So Falcon 9 surpassed the larger space shuttle in flights in about one-third of the time.

In October 2022, SpaceX set a new global record of 48 successful launches by the same launch vehicle type in a calendar year, breaking the previous record of 45 successful launches (out of 47 launches) in a calendar year, held by Russia’s Soyuz-U in 1979.

In March 2022, CEO Elon Musk raised an earlier annual target of 52 launches to 60 launches. At the time, 60 launches in one year was almost inconceivable. SpaceX’s last launch of 2022 which took place on 30 December was its 61th launch.



SpaceX’s relentless pursuit of perfection has made its launch missions extraordinarily routine, given how difficult it is to make a successful orbital rocket launch even once.

Since the first dedicated Starlink launch mission in May 2019, there have been 67 dedicated Starlink missions and 2 rideshare Starlink missions with Falcon 9 successfully launching and delivering every single Starlink satellite that it has ever carried (over 3600 spacecraft) into the proper orbit with only three boosters lost – two destroyed in landing failures, one lost at sea.

While SpaceX’s Starlink satellite is designed for consumer and commercial use, its Starshield satellite, announced by the company in December 2022, is designed for government use, with an initial focus on three areas, namely, earth observation, communications and hosting payloads.

The first four Starshield national security satellites were deployed for the US government on the Transporter-3 rideshare mission in January 2022. Another group of four satellites for the US government were launched along with a single on-orbit spare Globalstar FM-15 satellite in June 2022.

Going by its launch rate, Falcon 9 could reach 500 flights before the end of this decade. In the future, Falcon 9 will be replaced by SpaceX’s new and fully-reusable Starship rocket. But for the present, Falcon 9 – Crew Dragon is the only space transportation for NASA astronauts. And the duo remain the space transportation with the lowest risk, and lowest cost for space travellers around the world.

Till date, Falcon 9 has launched ten Crew Dragon missions, eight of them being crewed missions which have sent 30 people to orbit. It launched Cargo Dragon-1 on 22 missions (20 NASA resupply missions to the ISS) before the spacecraft was retired in April 2020, and thereafter, Cargo Dragon-2 on six missions.


SpaceX’s record-breaking launch cadence

Reliability of rocket reusability and rapid launch cadence are two of the reasons why SpaceX can charge significantly lower than its competitors. SpaceX is now getting closer to achieving its goal of “airline-like” cadence.

On 5 October, 2022, SpaceX launched its Starlink 4-29 mission from Vandenberg, California soon after Crew-5 launch from Kennedy Space Centre, creating a new record of the shortest time between two launches: 7 hours, 10 minutes.

SpaceX can maintain such a high launch cadence by using flight-proven first-stage boosters and payload fairings. It now delivers about twice as much payload to orbit as rest of world combined. The payloads include Starlink satellites, crew and cargo missions for NASA, Department of Defence missions, and commercial missions.

In Q2 (the second quarter) of 2022, SpaceX launched nearly 160,000 kilograms of up mass across 16 launches.

In Q3, SpaceX launched 705 spacecraft across 16 orbital launches, totalling 212,496 kg of spacecraft up mass, the most of any launch provider. The closest was China who launched 43 spacecraft.

In 2018 and 2019, SpaceX launched an average of 17 Falcon rockets per year. Its annual cadence grew to 26 launches in 2020 and 31 in 2021.

In 2022, SpaceX achieved a record-breaking launch cadence, launching on an average of once every six days. This is an unprecedented performance by a private company.

It made 61 launches (60 Falcon 9s and 1 Falcon Heavy), surpassing Elon Musk’s planned target of 60 launches, which is nearly twice the number of its launches in 2021 and 10 times more than the nearest competitor.

In December 2022 itself, SpaceX made a record 7 launches.

For 2023, the target is 100 launches.





This post is part of my 6-part blog series which covers the phenomenal rise of

SpaceX – the world’s no.1 aerospace company and manufacturer.

The series published on 01.01.2023 comprise the following posts:

Discovering SpaceX

Discovering SpaceX: Falcon Rocket Family

Discovering SpaceX: Fleet of Recovery Ships

Discovering SpaceX: Dragon Spacecraft

Discovering SpaceX: Starlink Satellite Constellation

Discovering SpaceX: Super Heavy Starship

I’d appreciate your sharing my Discovering SpaceX blog series not only with your family and friends but also with your fans and followers on social media 🙂

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