Falcon 9 after touching down on the Cape Canaveral landing site. Credit: SpaceX.
Happy congratulations to SpaceX and the Falcon 9 team! On Monday night, SpaceX launched the newest version of the Falcon, the Falcon 9 Full Thrust, with a payload of eleven Orbcomm communications satellites aboard the payload stage. An earlier attempt Sunday was cancelled due to weather concerns, but this time the rocket took off perfectly and sent the payload stage into orbit, successfully releasing the constellation of satellites.
View of landing Falcon 9 from hovering helicopter. Credit: SpaceX.
SpaceX also broke a new record by returning the first stage Falcon 9 back to the Cape Canaveral launch location and the newly- refurbished pad LC-13. That launch site was previously used in the 60's and 70's to launch Atlas missiles and Atlas-Agena rockets carrying satellites, and was last used in 1978. The launch tower and blockhouse were later demolished and the site declared a historic landmark. SpaceX recently leased the site from the Air Force and prepared it as a landing site for re-useable Falcon first stages. Previous attempts to land the Falcon were carried out at sea on landing barges, and all resulted in crashed rocket stages. This was the first attempt to return to land, and was successful as the pictures show. Prior to this, Blue Origin successfully landed a sub-orbital launched New Shephard rocket. The SpaceX success was more complicated, as this effort was a launch into orbital space.