A recycled SpaceX rocket booster recovered at sea from its first flight nearly a year ago blasted off again on Thursday from Florida on a satellite-delivery mission, then returned to land successfully on a floating platform at sea.
The twin achievements of launching a reusable rocket and recovering the vehicle for a possible third mission marked another milestone for billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk and his privately owned Space Exploration Technologies in a quest to slash launch costs.
The Falcon 9 booster, which previously flew in April 2016, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 6:27 p.m. EDT to put a communications satellite into orbit for Luxembourg-based SES SA.
The booster’s main section then separated from the rest of the rocket and flew itself back to a landing pad in the Atlantic, where it successfully touched down for its second at-sea return.
"This is going to be ultimately a huge revolution in space flight," Musk said during a webcast from the launch control center at Cape Canaveral immediately after the Falcon 9's autonomous touchdown. "It's been 15 years to get to this point."
SpaceX in December 2015 landed an orbital rocket after launch for the first time, a feat it has now repeated eight times.
By reusing rockets, SpaceX aims to cut its costs by about 30 percent, the company has said. It lists the cost of a Falcon 9 ride at $62 million but has not yet announced a price for flying on a recycled rocket.