There were smiles all around Tuesday morning at Hawthorne-based SpaceX after the private space company pulled off its greatest triumph.
Six months after one of its rockets exploded two minutes into flight, SpaceX launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral Monday night and delivered 11 satellites into a low orbit — then made history by successfully landing the booster rocket back on Earth as part of an effort to make them re-usable and cut costs.
The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral around 5:30 p.m. California time with a payload of 11 satellites being deployed into “low-Earth orbit” for the ORBCOMM communications company.
A few minutes later, the vehicle carrying the satellites separated from the rocket, and a backburn began on the Falcon 9 to bring it back toward Earth. About 10 minutes after the launch, the rocket successfully landed vertically on a landing pad — the first time a rocket has been successfully recovered.
Three previous attempts by SpaceX to land the rocket on a floating barge at sea failed.
The 11 satellites were also successfully deployed about 20 minutes after the rocket’s launch, making it a dual-success story for Elon Musk’s space firm. The deployment completed a 17-satellite array managed by ORBCOMM.
The launch was the first for SpaceX since June, when a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule loaded with 4,300 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station exploded shortly after takeoff.
Last month, SpaceX, which has sent unmanned supply ships to the International Space Station, was awarded a contract from NASA to launch a manned mission to the station. SpaceX and Boeing were each awarded contracts for the manned flights — replacing the retired space shuttle program — but the flights likely will not occur until at least late 2017.
— Wire reports