SpaceX, the space launch provider founded by Elon Musk, took another significant step forward in its efforts to make its rockets truly reusable when it safely landed a first-stage rocket on a barge in the Atlantic, at the fifth attempt.
The landing on Friday on the barge follows the company's successful return of a first-stage rocket to land at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December.
The launch marked SpaceX's first mission to send one of its Dragon supply craft to the International Space Station since last June, when one of its Falcon 9 rockets carrying supplies to the station exploded 45km above the Atlantic Ocean. The December event was a test return to flight following that explosion, the only complete failure of any Falcon 9 launch. The explosion resulted from the failure of a strut.
A video showed the first-stage rocket reappearing from the sky 300km north-east of Cape Canaveral, its engine burning, about eight minutes after take-off. It extended a set of landing legs and settled upright on the drone barge, which SpaceX had named Of Course I Still Love You.
"Falcon 9 first stage on our drone ship in the Atlantic after propelling the Dragon spacecraft to the Space Station," SpaceX wrote on Twitter.
Nasa, the US space agency, which paid for the mission, immediately congratulated SpaceX on the achievement.