SpaceX completed an historic vertical landing of its Falcon 9 rocket on Monday night — the first time such a feat had been achieved.
The launch and landing in Cape Canaveral, Florida, were the first from the private U.S. spaceflight company since its rocket exploded on liftoff in June.
“Welcome back, baby!” SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted after touchdown.
SpaceX had not previously attempted to land a rocket on land, and it marked the firm’s first successful attempt to recover a rocket from an orbital flight.
Previous attempts, all unsuccessful, were attempted on floating landing pads.
The 15-story first stage of rocket — used to propel the payload to 62 miles or so until the second stage takes over — successfully landed on Earth again at a prepared landing zone.
SpaceX has come close to landing a rocket but until now, never actually pulled the feat off. Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, stuck a landing last month — but Musk pointed out that was a suborbital trip, the requirements for which are considerably different.
“It’s a revolutionary moment,” Musk told reporters after the landing. “No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact.”
Musk said he ran outside and heard the sonic boom of the returning booster just as it landed; he assumed it had exploded. He learned the happy truth when he went back into Launch Control and saw video of the standing rocket.
“I can’t quite believe it,” he said. “It’s quite shocking.” Musk said the landing appeared close to perfect and the company “could not have asked for a better mission or a better day.”
Creating reusable rockets is important for lowering the cost of space travel, which could make space tourism and a trip to Mars more feasible.
The launch’s payload, 11 ORBCOMM satellites destined to join others in the communications company’s network, was also successfully deployed with no problems.
On June 28, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft filled with cargo for the International Space Station exploded a few minutes after lift-off.
The launch was originally scheduled for Sunday night, but was delayed because there was a 10 percent better chance of a successful landing on Monday, according to Musk.