Private space exploration company SpaceX has conducted its first successful launch since the explosion of a rocket on the launchpad in September.
SpaceX sent the rocket into space Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. It landed the first-stage mechanism successfully on a barge in the Pacific Ocean an important step in development of reusable rocket components.
A camera aboard the first stage gave viewers a real experience as it returned to Earth, flared landing rockets and made a perfect upright touchdown on the floating pad.
The return to flight is an important step for SpaceX, billionaire Elon Musk’s California-based company. It has about 70 launches in line, worth more than $10 billion. In addition to commercial launches, SpaceX ferries supplies to the International Space Station and is developing a capsule capable of carrying astronauts to the station.
“Mission looks good,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter. “All satellites deployed.”
Saturday’s launch was the first in a series planned to upgrade Iridium’s global communications network. The US$3 billion project aims to send 81 satellites to space in the coming months.
The company hopes to reduce the cost of future space travel by developing a dependable system of retrieving and reusing launch rockets for future missions.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 9:54 a.m. PST, carrying 10 communications satellites to be placed in orbit before returning to Earth. The first-stage piece of the rocket landed on the ocean barge about eight minutes after liftoff.
Last year, a Falcon 9 exploded on a Florida launchpad during a preflight test. Investigators determined that a helium tank had burst inside a liquid oxygen tank, triggering the explosion.
The rocket launched Saturday included modifications made in response to that accident. Including a redesigned helium canister. SpaceX also has adjusted its fueling procedures to minimize danger.