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Falcon 9

Falcon 9 & Dragon to
Return Astronauts
to Space

Falcon 9 Rocket

Falcon 9

Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX for the reliable and safe transport of satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. Falcon 9 is the first orbital class rocket capable of reflight. SpaceX believes rocket reusability is the key breakthrough needed to reduce the cost of access to space and enable people to live on other planets.

Falcon 9 was designed from the ground up for maximum reliability. Falcon 9’s simple two-stage configuration minimizes the number of separation events -- and with nine first-stage engines, it can safely complete its mission even in the event of an engine shutdown.

Falcon 9 made history in 2012 when it delivered Dragon into the correct orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station, making SpaceX the first commercial company ever to visit the station. Since then Falcon 9 has made numerous trips to space, delivering satellites to orbit as well as delivering and returning cargo from the space station for NASA. Falcon 9, along with the Dragon spacecraft, was designed from the outset to deliver humans into space and under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is actively working toward this goal.


Falcon 9 delivers payloads to space aboard the Dragon spacecraft or inside a composite fairing.

Dragon Spacecraft

Dragon carries cargo in the spacecraft’s pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk, which can also accommodate secondary payloads. In the future, Dragon will carry astronauts in the pressurized capsule as well.

Learn More About Dragon

Composite Fairing

The payload fairing is for the delivery of satellites to destinations in low Earth orbit (LEO), geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and beyond.

See Composite Fairing on Falcon Heavy

Second Stage

The second stage, powered by a single Merlin vacuum engine, delivers Falcon 9’s payload to the desired orbit. The second stage engine ignites a few seconds after stage separation, and can be restarted multiple times to place multiple payloads into different orbits. For maximum reliability, the second stage has redundant igniter systems. Like the first stage, the second stage is made from a high-strength aluminum-lithium alloy.

Burn Time
934kN210,000 lbf
Inside the Interstage


The interstage is a composite structure that connects the first and second stages and holds the release and separation system. Falcon 9 uses an all-pneumatic stage separation system for low-shock, highly reliable separation that can be tested on the ground, unlike pyrotechnic systems used on most launch vehicles.

First Stage

Falcon 9’s first stage incorporates nine Merlin engines and aluminum-lithium alloy tanks containing liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellant. After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are verified for full-thrust performance before the rocket is released for flight. Then, with thrust greater than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the rocket to space. Unlike airplanes, a rocket's thrust actually increases with altitude; Falcon 9 generates more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to over 1.8 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage flight to limit launch vehicle acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel.

Burn Time
Thrust At Sea Level
7,607kN1,710,000 lbf
Thrust In Vacuum
8,227kN1,849,500 lbf

Nine Merlin Engines

With its nine first-stage Merlin engines clustered together, Falcon 9 can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission. Falcon 9 is the only launch vehicle in its class with this key reliability feature.

Merlin Engines

Fig. 3

The nine Merlin engine Octaweb

Tech Spotlight

Dragon Spacecraft

Dragon is a fully autonomous spacecraft designed to transport cargo and ultimately people to and from orbit.

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Tech Spotlight

Dragon Trunk

Dragon’s trunk supports the Dragon spacecraft during ascent to space, houses the solar panels and contains a cargo carrier designed to hold unpressurized cargo.

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Tech Spotlight

Grid Fins

Falcon 9’s first stage is equipped with hypersonic grid fins which manipulate the direction of the stage’s lift during reentry.

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Tech Spotlight

Falcon 9 Structure

Falcon 9’s walls are made of aluminum-lithium alloy, a material made stronger and lighter than aluminum by the addition of lithium.

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Tech Spotlight

Landing Legs

Falcon 9 was designed from the beginning to be fully reusable, and carries landing legs which will land the rocket safely on Earth after takeoff.

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Tech Spotlight


The nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9 first stage are arranged in an Octaweb structure, with eight engines surrounding one center engine.

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Tech Spotlight

Merlin Engine

The Merlin engine that powers the first stage of Falcon 9 is developed and manufactured in-house by SpaceX.

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Technical Overview

70m229.6 ft
549,054kg1,207,920 lb
Payload to LEO
22,800kg50,265 lb
Payload to Mars

3.7m12 ft


Payload to GTO
8,300kg18,300 lb

Falcon 9 Milestones