SpaceX sent a rocket soaring toward orbit Monday night with 11 small satellites, its first mission since an accident last summer. Then it landed the leftover 15-storey booster back on Earth, safely.
It was the first time a rocket returned to land vertically at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and a tremendous success for SpaceX.
Company employees broke into cheers and chants following the touchdown 10 minutes after liftoff. Previous landing attempts failed, but those aimed for an ocean platform.
SpaceX employees jammed company headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., anxiously awaiting success outside Mission Control. They cheered at full throttle when the first stage separated cleanly two minutes into flight and reoriented itself for an unprecedented return to Cape Canaveral.
Then the roar became deafening, as TV cameras showed the first-stage booster landing right on a giant X at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX commentators called it “incredibly exciting” and were visibly moved by the feat.
Congratulations @SpaceX !!! That was a hard landing to stick. Opens a brand new door to space travel. I look forward to the details.
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) December 22, 2015
The company led by billionaire Elon Musk is striving for reusability to drive launch costs down and open up space to more people. Musk also runs the Tesla electric car company.
“Welcome back, baby!” Musk tweeted after touchdown.
“It’s a revolutionary moment,” Musk later told reporters. “No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact.”
On its previous flight back in June, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket failed shortly after liftoff, destroying a supply ship intended for the International Space Station. A snapped strut in the upper stage was to blame. SpaceX spent months correcting the problem and improving the unmanned rocket. It hopes to resume supply runs for NASA in February.