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The Falcon 1 is a partially reusable launch system designed and manufactured by SpaceX. The two-stage-to-orbit rocket uses LOX/RP-1 for both stages, the first powered by a single Merlin engine and the second powered by a single Kestrel engine. It was designed by SpaceX from the ground up and is the first successful fully liquid-propelled orbital launch vehicle developed with private funding.

The Falcon 1 achieved orbit on its fourth attempt, on 28 September 2008, with a mass simulator as a payload. On 14 July 2009, Falcon 1 successfully delivered the Malaysianmarker RazakSAT satellite to orbit on SpaceX first commercial launch, fifth launch overall.


According to SpaceX, the Falcon 1 is designed to minimize price per launch for low-Earth-orbit satellites, increase reliability, and optimize flight environment and time to launch. It is also intended to verify components and structural design concepts that will be reused in the Falcon 9.

First stage

The first stage is made from friction-stir-welded aluminum alloy. It employs a common bulkhead between the LOX and RP-1 tanks, as well as flight pressure stabilization. It can be transported safely without pressurization (like the heavier Delta II isogrid design) but gains additional strength when pressurized for flight (like the Atlas II, which could not be transported unpressurized). The resulting design has the highest propellant mass fraction of any current first stage. The parachute system, built by Irvin Para­chute Corp­oration, uses a high-speed drogue chute and a main chute.

Second stage

The second stage tanks are built with a cryogenic-compatible aluminum–lithium alloy. The helium pressurization system pumps propellant to the engine, supplies pressurized gas for the attitude control thrusters, and is used for zero-g propellant accumulation prior to engine restart. The Kestrel engine includes a titanium heat exchanger to pass waste heat to the helium, thereby greatly extending its work capacity. The pressure tanks are made by Arde corporation and are the same as those used in the Delta IV. They consist of an inconel shell wrapped by a composite.


It is planned that the first stage will return by parachute to a water landing and be recovered for reuse but this has not yet been demonstrated. The second stage is not designed to be reusable.


At launch, the first stage engine (Merlin) is ignited and throttled to full power while the launcher is restrained and all systems are verified by the flight computer. If the systems are operating correctly, the rocket is released and clears the tower in about seven seconds. The first-stage burn lasts about 2:49 minutes. Stage separation is accomplished with explosive bolts and a pneumatically actuated pusher system.

The second stage Kestrel engine burns for about six minutes, inserting the payload into a low Earth orbit. It is capable of multiple restarts.

Private funding

The Falcon 1 rocket was developed with private funding. The only other orbital launch vehicle to be privately funded and developed is the Pegasus, first launched in 1990; however, it requires a large aircraft as its first stage. The Falcon 1 is also the first partially reusable orbital rocket to be developed without public funding. While the development of Falcon 1 was privately funded, the first two Falcon 1 launches were purchased by the U.S. Department of Defense under a program that evaluates new US launch vehicles suitable for use by DARPA.


SpaceX is one of the few launch system operators that publishes its launch prices. In 2005 Falcon 1 was advertised as costing $5.9 million ($6.4 million when adjusted for inflation in 2009). In 2006 until 2007 the quoted price of the rocket when operational was $6.7 million. In late 2009 SpaceX announced new prices for the Falcon 1 and 1e at $7 million and $8.5 million respectively, with small discounts available for multi-launch contracts.

Launch sites

All flights have been launched from Kwajalein Atoll using the SpaceX launch facility on Omelek Islandmarker and range facilities of the Reagan Test Site. All upcoming Falcon 1 flights shown on the SpaceX manifest are also planned for Kwajalein. Other launch sites which have been discussed for Falcon 1 flights include:


Falcon 1 Versions Merlin A; 2006–2007 Merlin C; 2007–2009 Falcon 1e; 2010
Stage 1 1 × Merlin 1A 1 × Merlin 1C 1 × Merlin 1C
Stage 2 1 × Kestrel 1 × Kestrel 1 × Kestrel

(max; m)
21.3 22.25 26.83

1.7 1.7 1.7
Initial thrust

318 343 454
Takeoff weight

27.2 33.23 38.56
Fairing diameter

(Inner; m)
1.5 1.5 1.71

(LEO; kg)
570 (less to SSO) 450 (less to SSO) 1,010 (430 to SSO)

(GTO; kg)

(Mil. USD)
6.7 7 9.1
minimal Price/kg

11,754 15,556 9,010 (19,767 to SSO)
minimal Price/kg

Success ratio

0/2 2/3

Launch history

As of 2009, the Falcon 1 has made five launches. The first three failed, however the subsequent two flights were successful, the first successful launch making it the first privately funded and developed liquid-propellent rocket to reach orbit. The fifth launch was its first commercial flight, and placed RazakSAT into low Earth orbit.

See also


Further reading

External links

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