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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Launch and Landing

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Launch and Landing

SpaceX is making history again as it sends its second reusable Falcon 9 rocket booster back to Earth. It’s a huge step forward for the company, which aims to lower the cost of space travel and enable people to live on other planets.

The Falcon 9’s first stage consists of nine engines and aluminum-lithium alloy tanks that hold liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene propellant. It generates more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust at sea level.

The First Stage

The Falcon 9 is a medium- to heavy-lift launch vehicle designed and built by Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). This rocket is capable of sending both payloads to low-Earth orbit and cargo to the International Space Station.

During an orbital flight, the Falcon 9 first stage is jettisoned and begins a powered return back to Earth. During reentry, the stage uses a combination of reaction control thrusters, forward-mounted grid fins, and thrust from one to three of its nine Merlin engines.

The first stage is capable of landing precisely on either a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean or at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1), a concrete pad at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX has successfully landed at LZ-1 on two occasions.

The Second Stage

The Falcon 9 second stage is powered by a Merlin Vacuum Engine and aluminum-lithium alloy tanks containing the same propellant as the first stage. It ignites shortly after the first stage is jettisoned and can be reignited many times to position multiple payloads into different orbits.

The second stage also uses cold nitrogen gas (GN2) attitude control systems to improve pointing and roll control during flight. During reentry, the interstage will deploy four hypersonic titanium grid fins to change the center of pressure, orienting the rocket during the descent.

The second stage of the Falcon 9 launches 53 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink internet service, a global broadband network that will start up in 2023. It’s the 12th time a single booster has been used for Starlink missions, tying a record set last month.

The Interstage

The Interstage is a composite structure with an aluminum honeycomb core and carbon fiber face sheets. It connects the upper and lower stages of a Falcon 9 rocket. It also contains pneumatic actuators on the perimeter that engage to separate the two stages of a Falcon 9 rocket.

After the Falcon 9 first stage separates from its second stage, it performs a series of maneuvers to get itself back to Earth for landing on a drone ship at sea or a designated location on land. These include a boostback burn, a reentry burn to control the direction and trajectory for a landing and a final landing burn.

The interstage, as part of SpaceX’s reusable launch system technology, uses four grid fins on its outside to help it control its attitude and descent. After the booster reorients itself, it deploys landing legs that will land it on a floating platform in the ocean.

The Fairing

After the Falcon 9 rocket launches into space, its payload fairing falls back to Earth. As the fairing dries, it deploys parafoils to slow its descent.

The fairing is divided into two dissimilar reusable halves, and both have their own pneumatic pushers that deploy them in a controlled manner. The two sections are fastened together with a bolted frangible seam joint.

Elon Musk says that re-using the fairing could save SpaceX $6 million per mission, which is 10% of the cost of launch.

For the past few years, SpaceX has been testing a system to recover its fairings from the ocean. The company leased two former platform supply vessels called Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief, which were retrofitted with large nets designed to catch the fairings on their way down to the surface.

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