Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully landed a Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage on Monday following a satellite launch, marking a major success for the upstart space cargo company.
After separating in suborbit from the rest of the rocket, the first stage descended to an upright landing on a cement pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Employees in the control center immediately chanted, “U.S.A., U.S.A.”
SpaceX, founded in 2002, had tried on four previous occasions to land a giant rocket as part of its mission to create a lower cost space cargo service based reuse. But each time, both on an unmanned barge at sea and land, the rockets crashed on impact.
(Watch landing at the 42 minute mark)
The rocket, SpaceX’s most powerful yet thanks to a few upgrades, was originally planned for a launch on Sunday, but it was determined that Monday has more favorable conditions for a successful launch and landing. Aboard the Falcon 9 rocket were 11 Orbcomm (ORBC) satellites that were successfully deployed in a few groups.
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SpaceX faced mounting pressure to successfully execute Monday evening’s rocket launch—and landing—given its recent track record. In June, a Falcon 9 rocket exploded in flight while delivering supplies to the International Space Station.
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SpaceX’s rival, Blue Origin, which is backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, successfully launched and landed a sub-orbital rocket in Texas last month. At the time, Musk tried to minimize the accomplishment by saying that the Blue Origin rocket was smaller and did not involve stages that flew as high as his Falcon 9.