A new model rocket is ready to launch and land — just like the real vehicle on which it is based.
Newly-revealed and released for sale, Estes Industries' SpaceX Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon can lift off high into the sky or touch down on your desktop for display. The latest model in the company's scale series of historic boosters, the Falcon 9 is already one of the most anticipated rockets in Estes' 60-year history.
"It has definitely been a highly-sought product for quite some time, so we were thrilled to have the chance to work with SpaceX on it," Brennan Johnson, Estes' product development manager, said in an interview with collectSPACE.com.
"We definitely feel the numbers are going to be stronger than some of the other products that we have launched ... no pun intended," added Heidi Muckenthaler, Estes' vice president and general manager. "We're expecting to sell out."
Standing more than two feet tall (25.63 inches or 65.1 cm), the 1:100 scale Falcon 9 comes pre-finished, so no painting or decal application is needed. The first and second stages do not come apart, but the Crew Dragon spacecraft does separate.
Molded details, including the grid fins and landing legs that on the real Falcon 9 enable the first stage to land and be reused, are static on Estes' version, though not for a lack of trying.
"That was one of the things that we looked at pretty early on, for a mechanical deployment of the legs," said Johnson. "Due to their nature, we had a feeling that those would snap off a lot on recovery, which kind of leads to a bad customer experience."
"So that was one of the details that definitely got a lot of thought but didn't quite make it to the final cut," he said.
Estes also considered what it would take to replicate why the Falcon 9 has legs — its first stage propulsive landing.
"There are certain cost factors involved that are limiting in what we can do, but yes, if there were unlimited funds and people wanted to spend unlimited money, it would be amazing," said Muckenthaler.
Even with a powered landing ruled out (the model rocket and its Crew Dragon descend to the ground under a single parachute), recreating the Falcon 9 was not as simple as just shrinking down the real thing. As a licensed model, there were proprietary concerns to take into account, in addition to finding the right balance between a static display and a flying replica.
"This one was actually a little more challenging than what we have done in the past," Johnson told collectSPACE. "We had to do a lot of work to make sure we kept the aerodynamics the way we needed them for it to be a stable model rocket as well as have enough power to get it off the pad and provide a good customer experience on the flights."
When configured for display, a cap with nine molded Merlin engines hides an adapter which runs a metal rod from inside the rocket down to the included stand. For flight, the display adapter and nozzle cap are removed and either a C5-3 or C6-3 model rocket engine is inserted in their place. There are also transparent fins that slide onto the base to stabilize the rocket's ascent (Estes projects the model can reach upwards of 300 feet [91 m]).
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The SpaceX Falcon 9 ships to customers in a presentation box that is almost as nice as the model inside.
"Everybody loves the box. They are never going to throw it away," Muckenthaler said. "It is a matte black finish with foiled hand-painted art with the diagram of the rocket. Everybody lights up when they see it."
The Estes' SpaceX Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon retails for $149.99. It is available directly from Estes' website and through SpaceX's online shop.
Space.com and collectSPACE readers can save 10 percent when ordering the SpaceX Falcon 9 from Estes' website by using the code IN-COLLECTSPACE at checkout.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.