Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon-9 craft made history by successfully landing vertically at a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
On Monday night, the upgraded 23-storey-tall rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and returned about 10 minutes later to a landing site approximately six miles south of the launch pad. The unmanned rocket’s reached a peak altitude of 125 miles, then successfully deployed 11 ORBCOMM communication satellites.
The privately-owned space company successfully landed the rocket upright. Several earlier attempts to land Falcon 9 on a floating ocean platform have failed.
“It’s a revolutionary moment,” Musk said after the landing. “No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact.”
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.
“I can’t quite believe it,” Musk said. “It’s quite shocking.” Musk told reporters that the landing appeared close to flawless and the company “could not have asked for a better mission or a better day.”
SpaceX employees broke out in jubilant celebration as they watched a live-stream of the rocket return to Earth. “The Falcon has landed,” a SpaceX commentator said on the live webcast, then workers erupted into a chant of “USA! USA!” Mission accomplished.
It is not the first spacecraft to land a booster vertically; that feat was claimed by the much smaller New Shepard rocket in Texas last month, but Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies’ rocket went twice as high and was the first to bring a payload into orbit.
Musk’s California-based company has been striving to make rockets able to return to Earth and be able to be reused to reduce SpaceX’s operational costs. This was the first rocket launched by SpaceX since June when one exploded. The unmanned Falcon-9 broke apart into flames minutes after lifting off from Cape Canaveral.
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to send supplies to the ISS.