SpaceX has managed to launch and land the Falcon 9 rocket after delivering a payload into space without a hitch.
SpaceX, launched by entrepreneur Elon Musk, hit the media spotlight six months ago due to the high-profile explosion of an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket containing millions of dollars' worth of cargo.
The privately-held firm's failure placed all further rocket launches on hold temporarily for a revaluation of safety procedures and the Falcon's booster design. The rocket was then given an overhaul to improve the rates of success in launching, deploying a payload and then returning the rocket safely.
The launch-and-return idea is a pinnacle concept for Musk's dream: a fleet of reusable, reliable rockets and spacecraft which can break not only the gravitational barrier safely, but also span the breach for commercial spaceflight.
While SpaceX says its overall goal is to "enable people to live on other planets," this will be far in the future -- but demonstrating the safe deployment and return of spacecraft is a huge step towards this goal.
On Monday, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, a redesigned Falcon 9 was able to launch successfully from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, deliver a payload into space, and then the spent first stage was able to safely come back to Earth eight minutes later without burning up or crashing onto a landing spot at the complex.
This is the first time an orbital rocket has been able to land in a controlled fashion by the use of thrusters after delivering a load to orbit, and may signal a turning point in the space industry. SpaceX has demonstrated that rockets -- which cost a fortune in both time and money to construct -- do not have to be considered one-use wonders.
In turn, space exploration and satellite deployments have potentially become more financially viable.
The payload (.PDF) consisted of 11 low-Earth orbit satellites designed for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications across the world. The Orbcomm OG2 satellites, unaffected by poor weather, are used to improve network redundancy and capacity for satellite messaging systems.
The rocket's return, unscathed, prompted delight from Musk, who called it a "revolutionary moment." The SpaceX CEO tweeted:
Musk's company is not the first to successfully launch a rocket in recent years. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin has also managed to launch and return a rocket safely -- but not at the height, size or power of SpaceX.
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