What is the Falcon 9 Rocket?
It has certainly been a busy year for SpaceX, and most recently, for the Falcon 9 Rocket, which was developed to usher in an entirely new era of space travel. This partially reusable rocket has impressed even the most jaded of us space travel enthusiasts with its innovations and extremely usefulness in an era when many are questioning the sustainability of the industry. Now, the Falcon 9 is enjoying a new level of fame thanks to its most recent mission, and reminding us of the ways in which SpaceX is bringing us closer to a completely sustainable, cost-effective and mind-blowingly advanced age of space exploration.
The History of the Falcon 9
The Falcon 9’s colorful history dates all the way back to 2008, when SpaceX was granted a contract with NASA under their Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to bring cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). The contract depended on the use of the SpaceX Falcon 9 along with the Dragon. The contract was particularly prestigious as it permitted the use of SpaceX transportation vehicles for the most important missions involving cargo.
To date, the Falcon 9 is the most launched rocket in the history of the United States, proving its immense value. Its first launch under this contract took place on October 8th of 2012, after a series of test launches starting two years prior with the 1.0 model version. The Falcon 9 has fulfilled a staggering number of missions since.
The Falcon 9’s development began three years before the contract was signed, in 2005 when SpaceX first announced that it planned to launch the rocket in 2007, initially. In the beginning stages, development was slowed by the company’s reliance on their own money, until NASA stepped in at last to help fund the process. In 2008, NASA became an anchor tenant.
The Falcon 9 has launched 133 times to date, with an impressive 98.5% success rate.
The Brilliant Design Behind the Falcon 9
The Falcon 9’s usefulness and value to NASA can’t be stated enough, and its innovations showcase SpaceX’s emphasis on reusable rocket technology. It’s a partially reusable rocket, which can return to Earth and still be reused multiple times. It relies on the SpaceX Merlin engine, which uses liquid oxygen combined with rocket-grade kerosene as a rocket propellant to boost its efficiency. It uses a total of nine Merlin engines, hence the latter part of its name (the term “Falcon” is a reference to Star Wars). It’s designed to lose up to two of its engines.
The Falcon 9 is known for its cargo capacity, which can carry 50,300 pounds to low Earth orbit, although it has yet to be utilized at full capacity for a mission. Since the Falcon 9 first launched, it has seen numerous upgrades, including upgrades to its landing legs which quickly became a priority after its initial tests. The newest design relies on grid fins that capably deploy right before landing. Meanwhile, its tank uses friction-stir welding to be the strongest possible.
Latest News on the Falcon 9
The latest mission to employ the Falcon 9 just transpired, launching 50 satellites to orbit: 48 Starlink satellites, and two BlackSky Earth observation satellites. Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite network that aims to offer extremely affordable internet to remote areas around the world, which are largely impoverished. The goal is to place 42,000 satellites total, although critics have questioned a project of such a large scale. This latest mission brings the current total up to nearly 1,900. Meanwhile, the mission is the second for BlackSky.
The current incarnation of the rocket just saw its ninth mission, verifying how reusable it really is. It first launched in June of 2020, and is set to carry out a few more missions before 2021 comes to a close. It was the 27th launch this year, and the 32nd total for the greater Starlink initiative.
It’s worth pointing out that this mission came shortly after an upgrade to the broadband internet satellites, as they now have laser systems that communicate with one another while in orbit, relying less on the ground, to add to their self-sufficiency and overall efficiency, reducing resources to make them even more cost-effective.
Already, the Falcon 9 is preparing for another launch on the 9th of December and is testing as we speak. This time, it’s for the IXPE mission, which intends to measure the polarization of high-energy cosmic X-rays, which would allow astronomers to observe the environments that surround pulsars, neutron stars and black holes in ways that weren’t possible in the past.
With such a busy schedule, the Falcon 9 has clearly played an instrumental role in supporting some of the most important space-related initiatives of the 21st Century. So, there is no doubt that 2022 will be no different.