SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from the Florida site to deliver a payload of 11 satellites to low Earth orbit. But the real payoff came when the rocket returned to Earth, landing safely and vertically on a landing pad not far from where it had launched only 10 minutes earlier.
The launch also marked the first return to flight for SpaceX since the explosion of one of the company’s re-supply missions bound for the International Space Station.
Landing rockets after launch so they can be re-used in late launches has been a major goal of SpaceX and an important part of the company’s aim of driving down the price of space launches. Historically, the rocket boosters for most space launches have fallen into the ocean, never to be used again.
The company’s earlier attempts at test-landing its reusable rockets on an unmanned drone barge in the ocean ended in explosion as the rocket either came in too hot or tipped over after landing.
In the video below (starting at around 32:30 in), though, you can see the SpaceX Falcon 9 descend and stick the landing, a moment followed by an eruption of cheers at the company’s headquarters.