A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Monday with a payload of communications satellites before the reusable main-stage booster turned around, soared back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad in a dramatic spaceflight first.
The successful mission, capped by delivery of all 11 satellites to orbit for launch customer ORBCOMM, unfolded in just over 30 minutes and marked a pivotal reversal of fortunes for privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, founded by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
It was the first flight for his California-based company since a rocket failure in June that destroyed a cargo ship being carried on a resupply mission bound for the International Space Station.
The upgraded, 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:29 p.m. EST/0129 GMT, with the nine-engine suborbital main stage returning 10 minutes later to a landing site about 6 miles south of its launch pad. The upper-stage booster continued its ascent to Earth orbit with its payload.
Musk has said the ability to return his rockets to Earth so they can be refurbished and reflown would slash his company's operational costs in the burgeoning and highly competitive private space launch industry.