SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is the company’s workhorse, which carries a range of payloads into orbit. Its nine Merlin engines burn a mix of rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen to get the job done.
After the first stage has left the atmosphere, the landing legs deploy and engines light a final time to land the stage safely on a designated landing platform. That’s pretty exciting, especially when it happens at the end of a mission like this one.
First Stage Deployment
After the Falcon 9 first stage has separated from the second stage, a Merlin engine ignites to put the payload in orbit. The rocket can be restarted multiple times to place different payloads into different orbits.
Since the early days of SpaceX, the company has viewed rocket reuse as critical for its future. To this end, the first stages on Falcon 9 missions are re-used.
After a successful launch, the rocket’s first stage is designed to make a propulsive landing back on a ground pad at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), SpaceX’s concrete landing pad in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The booster stage is equipped with four landing legs and four grid fins.
Second Stage Deployment
The second stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launches payloads to orbit. Powered by a single Merlin Vacuum Engine, the second stage injects its payload into its desired orbit and separates from the first stage about six seconds after separation.
The Falcon 9’s first stage combines nine Merlin engines with aluminum-lithium alloy tanks that hold liquid oxygen and refined kerosene as propellant. It generates more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level.
As the first stage flies to its landing site, it employs a combination of reaction control thrusters and forward-mounted grid fins. It also deploys landing legs, slows down with an “entry burn,” and uses aerodynamic guidance to land upright on the ground or aboard a drone ship.
Third Stage Deployment
After the first stage deorbits, the third stage – known as a “transfer” or “dispenser” stage – deploys secondary payloads designed to ensure that satellites can communicate with each other after launch. This is an important step in SpaceX’s plans to make spaceflight more transparent and to help companies better understand their customers’ needs.
This mission will also see the first use of a new type of third stage. Originally designed by Spaceflight, this new third stage is called SHERPA-FX and will deploy 18 payloads into various orbits.
Its nine Merlin 1D engines will provide the necessary power to boost the Falcon 9’s upper stage and the transporter’s payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit. Afterward, the stack will enter a period of coasting. Once it comes to rest, the core will separate from the upper stage and a soft landing will be achieved at LZ-1 on the Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida.
Final Stage Deployment
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket will launch the new Crew Dragon Freedom on Wednesday (April 23) with four astronauts from NASA aboard. The mission is expected to fly to the International Space Station and dock with the orbiting lab’s robotic arm.
The rocket’s first stage will propel Dragon into orbit and then return to Earth for a landing. The booster will then be discarded after delivering the crew to orbit.
In an arrangement unique to rocket launches, SpaceX uses a drone ship to recover the Falcon 9’s first stage. This will help SpaceX develop reusable launch systems technology.
First Stage Landing
The first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean following a successful mission. The booster is deployed from the launch vehicle, re-oriented with cold gas thrusters and is then powered to land upright using a combination of reaction control thrusters, forward-mounted grid fins and engine power.
The company began flying a series of first-stage landing tests between 2013 and 2016, which allowed them to fine-tune their procedures for recovery and reuse. During that time, the company recovered first stages on land and on drone ships to optimize their re-use potential.
Now, the company has a track record for successful first-stage landings that it says is “triple digits”—meaning at least 10 out of 10 attempts have been successful. This is especially impressive when compared with the fact that most other rockets don’t recover their first stages and have to dispose of them once they’re done launching.
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