SpaceX just checked off another item on its bucket list on Thursday night. At just after 6:20 p.m. EDT, the private spaceflight company successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a first stage that had previously flown before.* As an added bonus, SpaceX returned it to Earth, landing it upright on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, a maneuver the company has completed several times now.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Elon Musk said, shortly after the rocket stage touched down safely.
The rocket carried a commercial communications satellite built by SES, a satellite operator in Luxembourg. It blasted off from Cape Canaveral’s launchpad 39A, the historic site of Apollo and space shuttle launches, which SpaceX leases from NASA.
SpaceX has spent years developing a reusable first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, the 14-story-tall booster that contains most of rocket’s engines and bears the company’s name in big, vertical letters. (The smaller upper stage of a Falcon 9 continues the climb into the sky after launch, pushing the payload upward.) The first stage in Thursday’s launch was used last April to transport cargo to the International Space Station as part of contract between SpaceX and NASA for resupply missions. The booster returned to Earth and touched down on a ship at sea. SpaceX then refurbished it for a second launch.