SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its unmanned Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean early on Friday after launching a Japanese communications satellite into orbit.
Shouts of “USA, USA, USA” and applause from the ground control crew greeted the feat, only the second time it has been accomplished by the company headed by internet entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida to put the communications satellite into orbit and made a swift return to land on the ocean platform. The mission was webcast live.
Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, intends to offer cut-rate launch services by reusing its rockets.
“Woohoo!!” Musk wrote on Twitter after the landing. “May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar.”
SpaceX successfully landed a rocket on a floating landing pad in April after four failed attempts. Another Falcon rocket had touched down on a ground-based landing pad at Cape Canaveral in December.
Before Friday’s launch, SpaceX had downplayed expectations for the rocket’s successful return.
The rocket flying on Friday was traveling twice as fast as the one that landed last month so it could deliver a hefty television broadcast satellite into an orbit more than 32,200 km beyond that of the International Space
Station, which is about 400 km above earth.
The 23-storey tall rocket lifted off from a seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1.21 am EDT. Perched atop the booster was the JCSAT-14 satellite, owned by Tokyo-based telecommunications company SKY Perfect JSAT Corp, a new customer for SpaceX.
About two-and-a-half minutes after launch, the rocket’s first stage shut down, separated, flipped around and headed toward a so-called drone ship stationed more than 650 km off Florida’s east coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket’s second stage continued flying to deliver the 4,700-kg JCSAT-14 satellite into orbit. The satellite, built by Space Systems Loral in Palo Alto, California, a subsidiary of MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, is designed to provide television, data and mobile communications services to customers across Asia, Russia, Oceania and the Pacific Islands.
Friday’s launch was the fourth of more than a dozen flights planned this year by SpaceX, which has a backlog of more than $10 billion worth of launch orders from customers, including Nasa.
Last week, SpaceX won its first contract to launch a US military satellite, breaking a 10-year monopoly held by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.