SpaceX has done it. Elon Musk’s rocket startup just successfully launched and then landed a Falcon 9 rocket some ten minutes later. This comes after several attempts that ended in fiery explosions.
The rocket was carrying 11 satellites destined for low-Earth orbit. It’s important to note, this rocket isn’t a one-off affair, or a small rocket like the Blue Origin New Shepard or SpaceX Grasshopper. This Falcon 9 carried important cargo and landing the rocket booster was the secondary goal of the mission.
The 15-story Falcon 9 is a serious rocket, capable of reaching 124 miles up thanks to the 1.5 million pounds of thrust produced by its 9 engines. It’s designed to take serious payloads into serious orbit. The Blue Origin is capable of taking a few humans 62 miles into the sky — which is still great.
SpaceX previously attempted to land a Falcon 9 on a robotic barge. This time around, the company opted for terra firma and a massive concrete landing pad.
Landing a Falcon 9 rocket was a long time coming for SpaceX. The company used smaller test rockets called the Grasshopper to test the system. Gradually, over several launches, the smaller rocket reached new heights from several hundred feet to sub-orbit flight before returning to Earth and landing vertically.
The Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket. Only the large, booster stage landed today. The remaining capsule contains the payload, which will not be reused.
This was the sixth launch of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2015.