Falcon 9 v1.1

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Falcon 9 v1.1
Falcon 9 launch with DSCOVR.jpg
Launch of the 10th Falcon 9 v1.1 with the Deep Space Climate Observatory on 11 February 2015. This rocket was equipped with landing legs and grid fins.[1]
Function Orbital medium-lift launch vehicle
Manufacturer SpaceX
Country of origin United States
Cost per launch $56.5M (2013) – 61.2M (2015)[2]
Height 68.4 m (224 ft)[3]
Diameter 3.66 m (12.0 ft)[3]
Mass 505,846 kg (1,115,200 lb)[3]
Stages 2
Payload to LEO (28.5°) 13,150 kg (28,990 lb)[3]
10,886 kg (24,000 lb) (PAF structural limitation)[4]
Payload to GTO (27°) 4,850 kg (10,690 lb)[3]
Associated rockets
Family Falcon 9
Derivatives Falcon 9 full thrust
Launch history
Status Retired
Launch sites
Total launches 15
Successes 14
Failures 1
First flight 29 September 2013[5]
Last flight 17 January 2016
Notable payloads Dragon, DSCOVR
First stage
Engines 9 Merlin 1D
Thrust Sea level: 5,885 kN (1,323,000 lbf)[3]
Vacuum: 6,672 kN (1,500,000 lbf)[3]
Specific impulse Sea level: 282 seconds[6]
Vacuum: 311 seconds[6]
Burn time 180 seconds[3]
Fuel LOX / RP-1
Second stage
Engines 1 Merlin 1D Vacuum
Thrust 716 kN (161,000 lbf)[7]
Specific impulse 340 seconds[3]
Burn time 375 seconds[3]
Fuel LOX / RP-1

Falcon 9 v1.1 is the second version of SpaceX's Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle. The rocket was developed in 2011–2013, made its maiden launch in September 2013,[8] and its final flight in January 2016.[9] The Falcon 9 rocket was fully designed, manufactured, and operated by SpaceX. Following the second Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) launch, the initial version Falcon 9 v1.0 was retired from use and replaced by the v1.1 version.

Falcon 9 v1.1 is a significant evolution from Falcon 9 v1.0, with 60 percent more thrust and weight. Its maiden flight carried out a demonstration mission with the CASSIOPE satellite on 29 September 2013, the sixth overall launch of any Falcon 9.[10]

Both stages of the two-stage-to-orbit vehicle use liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellants.[11] The Falcon 9 v1.1 can lift payloads of 13,150 kilograms (28,990 lb) to low Earth orbit, and 4,850 kilograms (10,690 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit,[2] which places the Falcon 9 design in the medium-lift range of launch systems.[12]

Beginning in April 2014, the Dragon capsules were propelled by Falcon 9 v1.1 to deliver cargo to the International Space Station under the Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.[13] This version was also intended to ferry astronauts to the ISS under a NASA Commercial Crew Development contract signed in September 2014[14] but those missions will now be carried out with the upgraded Falcon 9 Full Thrust version, first flown in December 2015.

Falcon 9 v1.1 was notable for pioneering the development of reusable rockets, whereby SpaceX gradually refined technologies for first-stage boostback, atmospheric re-entry, controlled descent and eventual propulsive landing. This last goal was achieved on the first flight of the successor variant Falcon 9 Full Thrust, after several close calls with Falcon 9 v1.1.

The launch of the first Falcon 9 v1.1 from SLC-4, Vandenberg AFB (Falcon 9 Flight 6) 29 September 2013.
A Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket launching the SpaceX CRS-3 Dragon spacecraft in April 2014.


The base Falcon 9 v1.1 is a two-stage, LOX/RP-1–powered launch vehicle.[11]

Changes from Falcon 9 v1.0

The Falcon 9 v1.1 ELV is a 60 percent heavier rocket with 60 percent more thrust than the v1.0 version of the Falcon 9.[15] It includes realigned first-stage engines[16] and 60 percent longer fuel tanks, making it more susceptible to bending during flight.[15] The engines have been upgraded to the more powerful Merlin 1D engines. These improvements increase the payload capability to LEO from 10,454 kilograms (23,047 lb)[17] to 13,150 kilograms (28,990 lb).[2] The stage separation system has been redesigned and reduces the number of attachment points from twelve to three,[15] and the vehicle has upgraded avionics and software as well.[15]

The v1.1 booster version arranges the engines in a structural form SpaceX calls Octaweb, aimed at streamlining the manufacturing process.[18] Later v1.1 vehicles include four extensible landing legs,[19] used in the controlled-descent test program.[20][21]

Following the first launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 in September 2013, which experienced a post-mission second-stage engine restart failure, the second-stage igniter propellant lines were insulated to better support in-space restart following long coast phases for orbital trajectory maneuvers.[22]

Falcon 9 Flight 6 was the first launch of the Falcon 9 configured with a jettisonable payload fairing.[23]

First stage

Falcon 9 v1.0 (left) and v1.1 (right) engine configurations

The Falcon 9 v1.1 uses a first stage powered by nine Merlin 1D engines.[24][25] Development testing of the v1.1 Falcon 9 first stage was completed in July 2013.[26][27]

The v1.1 first stage has a total sea-level thrust at liftoff of 5,885 kilonewtons (1,323,000 lbf), with the nine engines burning for a nominal 180 seconds, while stage thrust rises to 6,672 kilonewtons (1,500,000 lbf) as the booster climbs out of the atmosphere.[28] The nine first-stage engines are arranged in a structural form SpaceX calls Octaweb. This change from the v1.0 Falcon 9's square arrangement is aimed at streamlining the manufacturing process.[18]

As part of SpaceX's efforts to develop a reuseable launch system, selected first stages include four extensible landing legs[19] and grid fins to control descent. Fins were first tested on the F9R Dev-1 reusable test vehicle.[29] Grid fins were implemented on the Falcon 9 v1.1 on the CRS-5 mission,[30] but ran out of hydraulic fluid before a planned landing.[31]

SpaceX ultimately intends to produce both Reusable Falcon 9 and Reusable Falcon Heavy launch vehicles with full vertical-landing capability.[20][21] Initial atmospheric testing of prototype vehicles is being conducted on the Grasshopper experimental technology-demonstrator reusable launch vehicle (RLV), in addition to the booster controlled-descent and landing tests described above.[32]

The v1.1 first stage uses a pyrophoric mixture of triethylaluminium-triethylborane (TEA-TEB) as a first-stage ignitor, the same as was used in the v1.0 version.[33]

Like the Falcon 9 v1.0 and the Saturn series from the Apollo program, the presence of multiple first-stage engines can allow for mission completion even if one of the first-stage engines fails mid-flight.[34][35]

The main propellant supply tubes from the RP-1 and liquid oxygen tanks to the nine engines on the first stage are 10 cm (4 in) in diameter.[36]

Second stage

Falcon 9 fairing testing, 27 May 2013

The upper stage is powered by a single Merlin 1D engine modified for vacuum operation.[37]

The interstage, which connects the upper and lower stage for Falcon 9, is a carbon fiber aluminum core composite structure.[38] Separation collets and a pneumatic pusher system separate the stages.[39] The Falcon 9 tank walls and domes are made from aluminium-lithium alloy.[40] SpaceX uses an all-friction stir welded tank, a technique which minimizes manufacturing defects and reduces cost, according to a NASA spokesperson.[41] The second-stage tank of Falcon 9 is simply a shorter version of the first-stage tank and uses most of the same tooling, material and manufacturing techniques. This saves money during vehicle production.[34]

Payload fairing

The fairing design was completed by SpaceX, with production of the 13 m (43 ft)-long, 5.2 m (17 ft)-diameter payload fairing in Hawthorne, California.[42]

Testing of the new fairing design was completed at NASA's Plum Brook Station facility in spring 2013 where acoustic shock, mechanical vibration, and electromagnetic electrostatic discharge conditions were simulated. Tests were done on a full-size test article in vacuum chamber. SpaceX paid NASA US$581,300 to lease test time in the $150M NASA simulation chamber facility.[43]

The first flight of a Falcon 9 v1.1 (CASSIOPE, September 2013) was the first launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 as well as the Falcon 9 family configured with a payload fairing. The fairing separated without incident during the launch of CASSIOPE as well as the two subsequent GTO insertion missions.[43] In Dragon missions, the capsule protects any small satellites, negating the need for a fairing.[44]


SpaceX uses multiple redundant flight computers in a fault-tolerant design. Each Merlin engine is controlled by three voting computers, each of which has two physical processors that constantly check each other. The software runs on Linux and is written in C++.[45]

For flexibility, commercial off-the-shelf parts and system-wide "radiation-tolerant" design are used instead of rad-hardened parts.[45] Falcon 9 v1.1 continues to utilize the triple redundant flight computers and inertial navigation—with GPS overlay for additional orbit insertion accuracy—that were originally used in the Falcon 9 v1.0.[34]

Falcon 9 Full Thrust

In 2015, SpaceX made a number of modifications to the existing Falcon 9 v1.1. The new rocket was known internally as Falcon 9 Full Thrust,[46] and is also known as Falcon 9 v1.2, Enhanced Falcon 9, Full-Performance Falcon 9,[47] and Falcon 9 Upgrade.[48]

A principal objective of the new design was to facilitate booster reusability for a larger range of missions, including delivery of large commsats to geosynchronous orbit.[49]

Modifications in the upgraded version include:

  • liquid oxygen subcooled to −340 °F (−206.7 °C; 66.5 K) and RP-1 cooled to 20 °F (−7 °C; 266 K)[50] for density (allowing more fuel and oxidizer to be stored in a given tank volume, as well as increasing the propellant mass flow through the turbopumps increasing thrust)
  • upgraded structure in the first stage[48][51]
  • longer second stage propellant tanks[48]
  • longer and stronger interstage, housing the second stage engine nozzle, grid fins, and attitude thrusters[48][51]
  • center pusher added for stage separation[48]
  • design evolution of the grid fins[48][51]
  • modified Octaweb[48]
  • upgraded landing legs[48][51]
  • Merlin 1D engine thrust increased[48] to the full-thrust variant of the Merlin 1D, taking advantage of the denser propellants achieved by subcooling.
  • Merlin 1D vacuum thrust increased by subcooling the propellants.[48] The new second-stage engine was optimized for higher performance in vacuum through modifications such as a larger exhaust nozzle and an improved attitude control system.[52][53]
  • several small mass-reduction efforts.[54]

The modified design gained an additional 1.2 meters of height, stretching to exactly 70 meters including payload fairing,[55] while gaining an overall performance increase of 33 percent.[48] The new first-stage engine has a much increased thrust-to-weight ratio.[53]

The full-thrust first stage booster could reach low Earth orbit as a single-stage-to-orbit if it is not carrying the upper stage and a heavy satellite.[56]

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell explained in March 2015 that the new design would result in streamlined production as well as improved performance:[57]

So, we got the higher thrust engines, finished development on that, we're in [qualification testing]. What we're also doing is modifying the structure a little bit. I want to be building only two versions, or two cores in my factory, any more than that would not be great from a customer perspective. It's about a 30% increase in performance, maybe a little more. What it does is it allows us to land the first stage for GTO missions on the drone ship.[47]

According to a SpaceX statement, Falcon 9 Full Thrust would likely not require a recertification to launch for United States government contracts. Shotwell stated that "It is an iterative process [with the agencies]" and that "It will become quicker and quicker to certify new versions of the vehicle."[58]

SES S.A., a satellite owner and operator, announced plans in February 2015 to launch its SES-9 satellite on the first flight of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust.[59] In the event, SpaceX elected to launch SES-9 on the second flight of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust and to launch Orbcomm OG2's second constellation on the first flight. As Chris Bergin of NASASpaceFlight explained, SES-9 required a more complicated second-stage burn profile involving one restart of the second-stage engine, while the Orbcomm mission would "allow for the Second Stage to conduct additional testing ahead of the more taxing SES-9 mission."[60]

The upgraded first stage began acceptance testing at SpaceX's McGregor facility in September 2015. The first of two static fire tests was completed on 21 September 2015 and included the subcooled propellant and the improved Merlin 1D engines.[61] The rocket reached full throttle during the static fire and was scheduled for launch no earlier than 17 November 2015.[62]

Falcon 9 Full Thrust completed its maiden flight on 21 December 2015, carrying an Orbcomm 11-satellite payload to orbit and landing the rocket's first stage intact at SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.[63] The second mission, Falcon 9 Flight 22 carrying SES-9, was completed on 4 March 2016.

Development and production

From left to right, Falcon 1, Falcon 9 v1.0, three versions of Falcon 9 v1.1, and two versions of Falcon Heavy. (All three v1.1 versions have flown; neither Falcon Heavy version has yet flown.)

A test of the ignition system for the Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage was conducted in April 2013.[64] On 1 June 2013, a ten-second firing of the Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage occurred; a full-duration, 3-minute firing was expected a few days later.[65][66]

By September 2013, SpaceX total manufacturing space had increased to nearly 1,000,000 square feet (93,000 m2) and the factory had been configured to achieve a production rate of up to 40 rocket cores per year, for both the Falcon 9 v1.1 and the tri-core Falcon Heavy.[67] The November 2013 production rate for Falcon 9 vehicles was one per month. The company stated that this would increase to 18 per year in mid-2014, and would be 24 launch vehicles per year by the end of 2014.[22]

As launch manifest and launch rate increases in 2014–2016, SpaceX is looking to increase their launch processing by building dual-track parallel launch processes at the launch facility. As of March 2014, they projected that they would have this in operation sometime in 2015, and were aiming for a 2015 launch pace of about two launches per month.[68]

Other launcher versions

There are three versions of the Falcon 9. The original Falcon 9 flew five successful orbital launches in 2010–2013, all carrying the Dragon spacecraft or a test version of the spacecraft.[23]

The Falcon 9 v1.1 is a 60 percent heavier rocket with 60 percent more thrust than the v1.0 version of the Falcon 9.[15] It includes realigned first-stage engines[16] and 60 percent longer fuel tanks. The engines themselves were upgraded to the more powerful Merlin 1D. These improvements have increased the payload capability from 9,000 kilograms (20,000 lb) on the Falcon 9 v1.0 to 13,150 kilograms (28,990 lb).[2] The stage separation system was redesigned and reduced the number of attachment points from twelve to three.[15] The avionics and software have been upgraded in the v1.1 version as well.[15] The v1.1 first stage will also be used as side boosters on the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.[69]

A third version of the rocket—Falcon 9 Full Thrust—was developed in 2014–2015 and made its maiden flight in December 2015. Originally called the Reusable Falcon 9 or Falcon 9-R, the Falcon 9 Full Thrust is a modified reusable variant of the Falcon 9 family with capabilities that exceed the Falcon 9 v1.1, including the ability to "land the first stage for GTO missions on the drone ship"[47][57] The rocket was designed using systems and software technology that had been developed as part of the SpaceX reusable launch system development program, a private initiative by SpaceX to facilitate rapid reusability of both the first–and in the long term, second—stages of SpaceX launch vehicles.[70] Various technologies were tested on the Grasshopper technology demonstrator, as well as several flights of the Falcon 9 v1.1 on which post-mission booster controlled-descent tests were being conducted.[71]

Reusability concept

The Falcon 9 v1.1 includes several aspects of reusable launch vehicle technology included in its design, as of the initial v1.1 launch in September 2013 (throttleable and restartable engines on the first stage, a first-stage tank design that can structurally accommodate the future addition of landing legs, etc.). The Falcon 9 v1.1's launch occurred two years after SpaceX committed to a privately funded development program with the goal to obtain full and rapid reusability of both stages of the launch vehicle.[72]

Design was complete on the system for "bringing the rocket back to launchpad using only thrusters" in February 2012.[73] The reusable launch system technology is being considered for both the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, and is considered particularly well suited to the Falcon Heavy where the two outer cores separate from the rocket much earlier in the flight profile, and are therefore moving at slower velocity at stage separation.[73]

A reusable first stage is now being flight tested by SpaceX with the suborbital Grasshopper rocket.[74] By April 2013, a low-altitude, low-speed demonstration test vehicle, Grasshopper v1.0, had made seven VTVL test flights from late-2012 through August 2013, including a 61-second hover flight to an altitude of 250 metres (820 ft).

In March 2013, SpaceX announced that, beginning with the first flight of the stretch version of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle (Falcon 9 v1.1)—which flew in September 2013—every first stage would be instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle. SpaceX intends to do propulsive-return over-water tests and "will continue doing such tests until they can do a return to the launch site and a powered landing. ... [They] expect several failures before they 'learn how to do it right.'"[20] SpaceX completed multiple water landings that were successful and they now plan to land the first stage of the flight CRS-5 on an Autonomous drone port in the ocean.[21]

Photos of the first test of the restartable ignition system for the reusable Falcon 9—the Falcon 9-R— nine-engine v1.1 circular- engine configuration were released in April 2013.[64]

In March 2014, SpaceX announced that GTO payload of the future reusable Falcon 9 (F9-R), with only the booster reused, would be approximately 3,500 kg (7,700 lb).[54]

Post-mission test flights and landing attempts

Falcon 9 Flight 17's first stage attempting a controlled landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship following the launch of CRS-6 to the International Space Station. The stage landed hard and tipped over after landing.

Several missions of Falcon 9 v1.1 were followed by post-mission test flights calling for the first-stage booster to execute a flip around maneuver, a boostback burn to reduce the rocket's horizontal velocity, a re-entry burn to mitigate atmospheric damage at hypersonic speed, a controlled atmospheric descent with autonomous guidance to the target and finally a landing burn to cut vertical velocity to zero just before reaching the ocean or landing pad. SpaceX announced the test program in March 2013, and their intention to continue to conduct such tests until they can return to the launch site and perform a powered landing.[20]

The first stage of Falcon 9 Flight 6 performed the first test of a controlled descent and propulsive landing over water on 29 September 2013.[11] Although not a complete success, the stage was able to change direction and make a controlled entry into the atmosphere.[11] During the final landing burn, the ACS thrusters could not overcome an aerodynamically induced spin, and centrifugal force deprived the landing engine of fuel leading to early engine shutdown and a hard splashdown which destroyed the first stage. Pieces of wreckage were recovered for further study.[11]

The next test, using the first stage from SpaceX CRS-3, led to a successful soft landing in the ocean, however the booster presumably broke up in heavy seas before it could be recovered.[75]

After further ocean landing tests, the first stage of the CRS-5 launch vehicle attempted to land on a floating platform, the autonomous spaceport drone ship, in January 2015. The rocket guided itself to the ship successfully but landed too hard for survival.[76] The first stage of the CRS-6 mission managed a soft landing on the platform; however, excess lateral velocity caused it to quickly tip over and explode.[77] SpaceX CEO Elon Musk indicated that a throttle valve for the engine was stuck and did not respond quickly enough to achieve a smooth landing.[78]

Falcon 9 v1.1 was never successfully recovered or reused until its retirement. However the test program continued with Falcon 9 full thrust flights, which achieved both the first ground landing in December 2015 and the first ship landing in April 2016.

Launch sites

Falcon 9 v1.1 rockets were launched from both Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Vandenberg site was used for both the v1.1 maiden flight on 29 September 2013[11] and its last mission on 17 January 2016.

Additional launch sites at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 pad A and Boca Chica, South Texas will launch the rocket's successor variants Falcon 9 Full Thrust and Falcon Heavy.

Launch prices

As of October 2015, the Falcon 9 v1.1 commercial launch price was US$61.2 million (up from US$56.5 million in October 2013)[2] competing for commercial launches in an increasingly competitive market.[79]

NASA resupply missions to the ISS—which include the provision of the space capsule payload, a new Dragon cargo spacecraft for each flight—have an average price of $133 million.[80] The first twelve cargo transport flights contracted to NASA were done at one time, so no price change is reflected for the v1.1 launches as opposed to the v1.0 launches. The contract was for a specific amount of cargo carried to, and returned from, the Space Station over a fixed number of flights.

SpaceX stated that due to mission assurance process costs, launches for the U.S. military would be priced about 50% more than commercial launches, so a Falcon 9 launch would sell for about $90 million to the US government, compared to an average cost to the US government of nearly $400 million for current non-SpaceX launches.[81]

Secondary payload services

Falcon 9 payload services include secondary and tertiary payload connection via an ESPA-ring, the same interstage adapter first utilized for launching secondary payloads on US DoD missions that utilize the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) Atlas V and Delta IV. This enables secondary and even tertiary missions with minimal impact to the original mission. As of 2011, SpaceX announced pricing for ESPA-compatible payloads on the Falcon 9.[82]

Launch history

The first launch of the substantially upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 vehicle successfully flew on 29 September 2013.[11][83]

The maiden Falcon 9 v1.1 launch included a number of "firsts":[5][84]

SpaceX conducted the fifteenth and final flight of the Falcon 9 v1.1 on 17 January 2016. Fourteen of those fifteen launches have successfully delivered their primary payloads to either Low Earth orbit or Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. The only failed mission of the Falcon 9 v1.1 was SpaceX CRS-7, which was lost during its first stage operation, due to an overpressure event in the second stage oxygen tank.[86]

See also


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