Skip to main content

This SpaceX video of a Falcon 9 rocket stage separation during launch is just amazing

A new SpaceX (opens in new tab) video has captured a striking view of two critical moments in any rocket launch: stage separation for its booster and nose cone jettison. 

The video (opens in new tab), which SpaceX released on YouTube (opens in new tab) Saturday (Feb. 5), shows the company's Jan. 31 launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Italian Earth-observation satellite Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation FM2. The mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station last week. 

"Extended tracking shot of Falcon 9 (opens in new tab)," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (opens in new tab) wrote on Twitter (opens in new tab) while sharing the video. 

Related: Out-of-control SpaceX rocket will smash into the moon in weeks

The new video does not show the moment of liftoff. Instead, it starts several minutes after launch when the veteran Falcon 9 rocket, which had flown twice before, was near stage separation, a milestone that occurred about 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the flight.

About 26 seconds into the video, the high-powered tracking camera watching the Falcon 9 captured that moment as the first stage of the 230-foot (70 meters) rocket separated from its upper stage, then backed away and flipped over to begin the journey back to Earth. 

Puffs of nitrogen gas can be seen as the booster fired maneuvering jets to orient itself in space. The first stage ultimately landed just under 8 minutes after launch, with a touchdown at SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (opens in new tab). You can watch the full Falcon 9 launch and landing video (opens in new tab) below.

Another key moment occurs about 4 minutes and 7 seconds into the video, when the clamshell-like payload fairing covering the CSG-2 satellite popped free and fell away. The payload fairing makes up the Falcon 9 nose cone and protects satellites from aerodynamic stresses of flight during liftoff. It separates once the rocket is high enough that the fairing is no longer needed, shedding unnecessary weight for the upper stage.

Like the Falcon 9 first stage, SpaceX hoped to recover the twin payload fairings, which also had flown before, in order to reuse them on a future flight. Musk has said the company can save $5 million by reusing its payload fairings, which it fishes from the ocean with recovery boats.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com (opens in new tab) or follow him @tariqjmalik (opens in new tab). Follow us @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab), Facebook (opens in new tab) and Instagram (opens in new tab)

Tariq Malik
Tariq Malik

Tariq is the editor-in-chief of Live Science's sister site Space.com. He joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, focusing on human spaceflight, exploration and space science. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times, covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University.