Falcon 9, standing tall

By Phil Plait | January 12, 2009 12:00 pm

Space X, the private launch company that successfully launched their Falcon 1 rocket into orbit last year, just revealed that their next generation rocket, the Falcon 9, is now vertical at NASA’s Cape Canaveral!

Gotta love the imagery there.

The Falcon 9 is a heavy lift vehicle, capable of launching more than 12 tons to low Earth orbit, or 5 tons to an elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbit (the payload itself has to have a rocket onboard to circularize the orbit). To give you an idea of what you’re seeing in the picture above, here is an older shot of a quarter-section of the fairing, the broad payload section on the top of the rocket:

Now you might start to understand why I’m getting excited by all this. That fairing is 5.2 meters across and nearly 14 long. It’ll hold a nice size payload. Space X is one of two companies to which NASA gave a substantial chunk of cash, to carry the space agency through the post-Shuttle era.

And now that rocket is assembled and waiting in Florida. There is still no word from the company when it will launch on its flight, but word on the street at Kennedy is that people are buzzing over the rocket. It must be quite a sight there. As soon as I hear more I’ll be posting about it!

Photos courtesy Space X.


Comments (68)

  1. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  2. Molly

    It’s beautiful!

  3. DrFlimmer

    I thought with nine motors it should have been wider at the basement. Well, probably I thought they would look like the SaturnV 😉

  4. Mchl

    They claim Falcon 9 Heavy (Falcon 9 as seen on pictures with two additional first stages attached as boosters) could lift almost two tons into TLI orbit. Nice :)

  5. Charles Boyer

    I thought with nine motors it should have been wider at the basement. Well, probably I thought they would look like the SaturnV

    The S-1-C (first stage) of a Saturn V had five motors, but the F-1 engines were huge.

    Here’s a good idea of how big: http://www.dkimages.com/discover/previews/784/596589.JPG

  6. Cheyenne

    Can’t wait to see the video of that launch. Too cool.

  7. Jack Mitcham

    So… phallic. So, they shoot a payload out of that tip? Interesting.

  8. @Charles Boyer:
    So, the Saturn used Giraffes to power it??? :)

  9. Winter Solstice Man

    More evidence that space exploration is a man’s world.

    Impressive sight, now I just hope it works (that’s what she said).

  10. Grand Lunar


    Now to see it in action!

  11. I wonder what payload it’ll take on its first launch…
    Perhaps a load of water or inexpensive things for the ISS in case it doesn’t make it to orbit.
    Crossing fingers… Wait! I don’t believe in that stuff!
    Sweating bullets… That’s better. [OW!] Hey, free ammo! Cool!

  12. Phil


    What kind of scientist mixes feet and meters? WOW. No wonder I have such a hard time teaching kids to use metric.

  13. @Mchl:

    That’s actually the figure for the regular F9. The F9H should be able to do substantially better than that as it is supposed to be capable to lift some 27 tons to LEO, compared to 10 tons of “vanilla” F9.

  14. The payload is reportedly a U.S. Air Force payload, although that hasn’t been made official yet.

  15. Gnat

    That’s so cool! It actually looks like a *rocket*…as much as I’ve loved the Space Shuttle, it never really looked as cool (read “dangerous”) as the earlier ships. Personally, I think if you’re doing a dangerous job, it should *look* dangerous! In my humble opinion. :)

  16. JoeSmithCA

    Hmmm, does SpaceX give out multiple launch vehicle discounts? I’m hoping for a buy three launch vehicles and get a fourth one free! Does it come in custom colors? How much for tossing cookies into space? (multiple reference pun).

  17. Phil, at what point in this entry did I not use metric units? A ton (1000 kg) is a metric unit as well.

  18. Miranda


    The spacex.com link includes photo captions that bounce back and forth between feet and metres. I suspect Phil was referring to that, not to you :)

  19. Well, we’re using “metric” tonnes right? 2240.6 pounds per?

    I always have a problem conceptualizing what all these fancy pantsy metric numbers you scientists use so I like to convert them to more realistic and usable units. Using the website attached to my name I can easily find that this rocket can lift to LEO –

    3715 gallons of water (used for ISS)
    6000 chickens
    50 Grand Piano’s
    18,813 female, um, augmenters
    7.4 midsized cars
    23.9 of, hee-hee, something else….

  20. Do you think that life on another planet that evolved without penises would use such phallic space vehicles? Probably.

  21. Sarah

    People! It’s an “X” behind the rocket. For “space X” of course. And yes, it’s longer than it is wide.. Any other associations are entiirely your own.. 😉

    For a scale shot of the business end, see their web site in particular:

  22. IVAN3MAN

    Phil Plait: “Phil, at what point in this entry did I not use metric units? A ton (1000 kg) is a metric unit as well.”

    Phil Plait, may I draw your attention to this extract from Wikipedia:

    A tonne (t) or metric ton, also referred to as a metric tonne or tonne métrique, is a measurement of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms, or 2204.6226 pounds. […] Though the spelling tonne predates the introduction of the SI system in 1960 (it has been used in France for about two and a half centuries, where it comes from), it is now used as the standard spelling for the metric mass measurement in some English-speaking countries. In the United States the correct term is metric ton. The comparable imperial and US customary units are spelled ton in English.

  23. JoeSmithCA

    Phil Plait,

    Phil is nit picking and could not take the simple leap that you were referring to (US English correct) “Metric Ton”. I guess some people can’t make the assumition that when you use metrics in your sentence, the word ton should be assumed to be a Metric Ton (or Tonne for the rest of the world). Seesh, such accuracy really only matters if you’re in the market for launching something :)

  24. DrFlimmer

    As far as I know even England changed to the metric system. America what the heck are you waiting for? You even lost a Mars probe due to that ………
    It’s just like with those astronomers. Everyone agreed to turn to SI, but only the astronomers are still stuck with cgs. As a student you get mad when you don’t remeber that and your exercises don’t make sense!

    Just wanted to leave this note 😉

    Btw: Charles Boyer, yes, I know the Saturn5 had only 5 rockets, but somehow those guys are the prototyps of a rocket in my head, so everything’s compared to them 😉

  25. Phil

    Ahh, see I am used to using “tonne” for metric tons, perhaps a holdover from days abroad, and from in my geo studies having to communicate in both worlds of metric and English units. You spend too many years with “tonne=metric, ton=English” and you’d get lost as well. Now if only I could convince my spell check at work (where I can’t change the settings) to spell “colour” with the u, and not tell me its a mistake.

  26. justcorbly

    Good luck to ’em.

    I’m convinced that real space travel won’t begin until getting to and from LEO is routine, like taking the subway to the airport to catch a flight around the planet. No one gets excited about the subway ride.

    Re: Saturn 5: By way of comparision, it could put 260,000 pounds in LEO. That would be 130 tons, more than ten times the capability of this configuration of Falcon 9.

  27. gopher65

    Errr…. wait. So there is somewhere in the world where the word “tonne” doesn’t exist? I honestly thought that that was universally accepted as the correct lingo for “metric ton”.


    I hope that one day we have some units that are actually, you know, standard across the world. This long/short scale thing and English/Metric thing is killing my poor little brain.

  28. Ciderman

    Get it up! 😉

  29. firemancarl

    Hey Phil,

    They had a story on WFTV tonight ( I looked but nothing on their webpage yet), the story said they can get the rocket into launch position in 30 minutes and they showed it in time lapse video. Pretty cool. It said their first launch was from the Marshall Islands and they are nearly ready to launch from KSC or Patrick AFS, I don’t remember which one it was though.

  30. How do you not call that the Phallicon 9?

  31. Naomi

    Whoa. Neat XD Okay, quite phallic, but what rocket isn’t? XD Can’t wait until the launch!

    And I’ve seen an F-1 engine! THEY ARE FRIGGIN’ HUGE. There’s one in the space exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. (I was there last week to see the Star Wars exhibit XD) I cheerfully remarked that if it was real and suddenly turned on, we’d be vapourised so quickly we wouldn’t even realise it. Got a few scandalised looks ^_^

  32. Naomi, darn. Didn’t know about the rocket engine at the Powerhouse. Made a couple of flying visits to the Star Wars Expo myself but didn’t have time to wander the rest of the museum. I’ll have to schedule another visit now. Thanks.

  33. Charles Boyer

    And I’ve seen an F-1 engine! THEY ARE FRIGGIN’ HUGE.

    And loud.

    I’ve seen every single one that was used in an operational launch. You youngsters really missed something — the utter majesty and brute determination of a Saturn V as it lumbered off of the launch pad.

  34. Charles Boyer

    know the Saturn5 had only 5 rockets, but somehow those guys are the prototyps of a rocket in my head, so everything’s compared to them.

    Please name a more successful launch system than Saturn. :-)

  35. Greg

    Must we get Freudian every time someone builds a rocket?

    Seriously, let me know how to build a vagina-shaped lifting system.

  36. Charles Boyer: “You youngsters really missed something”

    Remind me of it, will ya… :-/

  37. Greg, not all transport is phallic.
    Warning!!! NSFW work but click my name.

  38. justcorbly

    Sadly, the sound generated by the vehicle at launch seems to be muted. And no recording can mimic how the ground shook.

    The Saturn 5 remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever launched.

  39. Charles Boyer

    ^ Actually, the Soviet N-1 system was the most powerful ever launched. It never successfully launched, mind you, but it was slightly more powerful than Saturn and was the Soviet moon rocket.

    Astronautix has more detail than one could ever ask for


  40. Charles Boyer

    A little story about Apollo 11’s launch: I saw it from the VIP gallery with my mother, and that place was about four miles from the launch pad. The stands rattled, despite all of the people that were on it. We were surrounded by the cognescenti of American politics and popular culture of that time, many of whom were taken aback by what they saw. I don’t think that anyone who had never seen a Saturn launch quite knew what to expect. We did, being Cocoa Beach relatives who had seen that particular rodeo several times by that point.

    When we got home many hours later (there were about a million people in the launch’s vicinity) we were greeted by a couple of windows that were cracked in their frame by the sounds of the launch — which was about ten miles away.

    The alligators were also in a frenzy all over town, which was normal after a Saturn launch. The rocket’s low frequency sounds apparently mimic mating calls of male gators and the volume of the noise across the space coast would put them on high alert. That’s also true of the Shuttle, BTW, and you are warned to not approach the water on KSC property after a launch for about half a day. Gators are very territorial and because of the “mating calls” from the rocket they will defend their territory with a lot of vigor.

    I know that that night I was very happy to see my father and grandfather, both of whom returned from KSC for the first time in a couple of weeks prior to the launch. A bonus was seeing my uncle, who was also on hand to see the launch prior to his return to HSV.

  41. Paul Claessen

    Some nitpicking …

    “the Falcon 9, is now vertical at NASA’s Cape Canaveral!” & “but word on the street at Kennedy is”

    This suggests that the Falcon 9 will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

    This, however, is not the case. It will be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Which is close to NASA’s KSC, but is not the same).

    Only manned flights are launched from Kennedy Space Center. All others (in Florida) from the closeby Air Force Station.

    (There is no such thing as “NASA’s” Cape Canaveral. Both KSC and Cape Canaveral AFS are ON Cape Canaveral (called Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973))

  42. BP

    Only the first stage of the vehicle erected this weekend is real. The upper stage and fairing are dummies. They are sending the vehicle back to California and the first launch here is not until ‘summer’; in otherwords, this was for show.

  43. It is in Florida though Paul yes?

  44. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    So there is somewhere in the world where the word “tonne” doesn’t exist?

    Yes, Sweden for one, since 1885 when we went metric. And we are still using it for convenience even though we moved on and adopted the SI system long since. (Tonne is, of course, a non-SI unit accepted for use.

    In the beginning I thought the english use of french term tonne was an attempt of being cute, but I guess not. Well, better metric than imperial, I assume. And tonne doesn’t really hurt SI as some old related units do, say, cgs (“centi-metric”? :-), you wouldn’t loose a probe using it. 😉

  45. Paul Claessen

    @Shane … Yes, and you can throw a rock at CC AFS from KSC, but still…

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    let me know how to build a vagina-shaped lifting system.

    But there’s an example right there in the pictures – a system with an enveloping cradle snuggly mated with the rocket, appropriately called “an erector system” … oh, you meant a space lifting system!

  47. Charles Boyer

    CCAS and KSC are adjacent.

    Manned launches are at KSC, with rare unmanned launches (tests for unmanned systems.)

    CCAS is immediately south and it is where unmanned launches occur. It’s also where “The Cape” is, and the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.

    One can take a single step and go between KSC and CCAS, no rocks are needed.

    Below that are Port Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, South Cocoa Beach and then Patrick Air Force Base. If you have ever seen I Dream of Genie, you probably remember the office building that they showed — that’s Patrick. There’s no place in Cocoa Beach that looks like where Major Nelson lived. And yes, we heard all of the jokes.

  48. Charles Boyer

    I meant to say (tests for MANNED systems) above. For example, the Ares-1X dog-and-pony show scheduled for July is unmanned but will fly from KSC…if it happens.

    BTW, I talked to some folks working on the Ares test launch and they say that it is merely a political launch and that it hardly resembles Ares I in any design configuration. One guy went so far as to call it a “waste of my time and the government’s money, and is meant just to show progress and little else.”

  49. kuhnigget

    Show or not, the Space X guys know how to stage a photo. The criss-crossed spotlights forming the “X” are wonderful. Although I suspect a little photoshopping was done….what’s the deal with that little spotlight on the left suddenly disappearing as it crosses the left side of the “x”? Or maybe it’s a cloud.

    Anyway, I hope their engineering is as good as their PR.

  50. kuhnigget

    @ Charles Boyer:

    Do they still clear out all the visitors to the nudie beach at Playa Linda before a launch? :)

    Great views from there.

    Of the shuttles on the pads.

  51. Charles Boyer

    There was actually some talk about closing Playalinda to build a commercial launch pad.

    Generally, Merritt Island NWR and Playalinda close for Shuttle launches. Usually, the beach opens the next day and the NWR and hour after launch. Both the beach and refuge are located on NASA property. The south end of Playalinda is located close to pad 39B, so NASA routinely closes both the beach and the refuge for safety and security reasons.

    That *may* not be true for the May mission, which will have a different launch profile than the northerly launches that are headed to the ISS National Laboratory. If I were to put money on it, however, I would expect it to close.

  52. Charles Boyer

    Oh, and as far as the “great views” it is my experience from going to French Saint Martin annually (as well as going to other Caribbean islands) that there is a simple rule:

    “those that should be naked are wearing bathing suits and those that should be wearing bathing suits are naked.”

    One notable exception is the topless end of Orient Beach in SXM where the bars are. If half-naked 25 year old Euro-babes are your thing, you might enjoy a day there. It’s so prevalent my wife even makes jokes about it.

  53. “.what’s the deal with that little spotlight on the left suddenly disappearing as it crosses the left side of the “x””

    Looks to me like a reflection off the lightning tower.

  54. dave

    I heard the Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, so…

  55. Spiv

    Paul: I’m at Kennedy. Officially I think there’s a bridge that separates the CCAFS and KSC, but that’s about it. You can see the spaceX rocket from a variety of vantage points on KSC property. So yes, we at KSC are stoked about this. SpaceX’s ultimate goal is manned flight after all.

  56. kuhnigget

    @ Charles:

    ” If half-naked 25 year old Euro-babes are your thing, you might enjoy a day there. “

    Thanks for the warning. :)

  57. justcorbly

    The Saturn could haul considerably more payload to orbit than the N1. It also had the advantage of not blowing up.

  58. DietMilk

    Its awesome to see that private space companies are seriously getting the ball rolling.

    I can’t wait to see how far it goes in a decade or so.

  59. I dunno Phil, that first pic looks shopped to me.

  60. IVAN3MAN

    Quoditian Torture: “I dunno Phil, that first pic looks shopped to me.”


  61. Paul Claessen

    For folks close to “the cape”, there’s a Delta-4 “Heavy” launch tonight at 7:45pm. http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20090114/NEWS02/901140318/1006/NEWS01
    (And they’re rolling out the Shuttle today)

  62. Gary Ansorge

    How unfortunate that a flying vulva is so aerodynamically inadequate.

    Naomi: My preference is for a flying disc, with large surface area to absorb (ground based transmitter)micro waves for the onboard power. Someday we will have to get away from mere rockets,,,

    GAry 7

  63. Charles Boyer

    By all means, roll out to Port Canaveral or Jetty Park.

    As I recall the Causeway is closed for D-IV-H launches.

  64. BP

    Playalinda beach and MINWR close three days before every shuttle launch.

    The causeway is a public viewing site for shuttle launches and as a VIP site for shuttle and other launches on occasion, but is not open to the public for Delta IV launches, no.

    Playalinda is no longer a nude beach from my understanding (there are signs out there last I saw).

  65. kuhnigget

    @ Ivan:

    Now, now. I mentioned the possibility of photoshopping, too. But I think it was only an aesthetic touch up — getting rid of an extra spotlight to make the “X” logo.

    ‘Cause, you know, it’s the pixels.


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