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Five Fascinating Facts About SpaceX’s Falcon 9

Here is some Falcon 9 trivia to enjoy while we anticipate Sunday’s launch.

It's been a nail-biting year for Falcon 9, a rocket designed and manufactured by private space technology corporation SpaceX. In 2012, SpaceX became the first commercial company to visit the International Space Station when Falcon 9 delivered the spacecraft Dragon. Although Falcon 9 and Dragon are currently being used to deliver cargo to the ISS, the ultimate goal behind the spacecrafts is to shuttle humans to space and usher in an era of space tourism.

Delivering cargo hasn’t been a problem for Falcon 9, but SpaceX is attempting to push the rocket one step further. Instead of discarding the two-stage rocket’s materials, SpaceX has been attempting to vertically land the first stage of the rocket on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean so it can reuse as much of the rocket as possible.

SpaceX’s two previous attempts at landing the first stage of Falcon 9 have been frustratingly close to successful.

You can watch the January landing attempt here and the April landing attempt here.

On Sunday, SpaceX will make a third attempt at landing Falcon 9. Despite SpaceX’s statement that a success is “uncertain,” hopes and expectations are high and the pressure is on.

Here are some quick fun facts about the Falcon 9 rocket:

The April landing was going perfectly until about 10 seconds before the landing. At that point, the rocket — which weighed 67,000 lbs and was careening toward earth at about 200 mph — lost control for a moment because a faulty valve caused the engine to fire for too long.

Musk named the landing barge “Of Course I Still Love You,” which is a reference to a sci-fi novel, “The Player of Games” by Iain M. Banks. In April, the rocket attempted to land on a drone ship called “Just Read the Instructions,” a reference to the same novel.

SpaceX is attempting to land the Falcon 9 in order to reuse the rocket engine as part of a goal to cut costs and reduce waste. “A jumbo jet costs about the same as one of our Falcon 9 rockets, but airlines don't junk a plane after a one-way trip from LA to New York,” reads a statement released by SpaceX yesterday. “Yet when it comes to space travel, rockets fly only once — even though the rocket itself represents the majority of launch cost.”

For the rocket to land on its legs, the first stage needs to flip midair on its axis as the second stage separates and continues into orbit (an illustration of the maneuver can be found here.) SpaceX added cold-gas thrusters on the top of the first stage to help accomplish the midair somersault.

Yesterday, SpaceX unveiled a previously unreleased video of April’s landing attempt, which you can watch here:


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