A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Saturday and placed a constellation of satellites in orbit, marking the company's first launch since a fireball engulfed a similar rocket on a Florida launch pad more than four months ago. The cheers rose again minutes later, when the Falcon 9's first stage landed on a drone ship in the Pacific for the first time.
SpaceX officials say they identified all possible causes of the September 1 accident during prelaunch testing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and took corrective action.
The rocket stuck the landing eight minutes after lifting off. SpaceX has now pulled off seven such touchdowns during orbital launches, with five coming on drone ships and two rockets flying back to their launch sites on terra firma. SpaceX intends to reuse its rockets to cut costs.
Despite the unpredictability of space operations, SpaceX's goals remain large.
The new spacecraft are faster, more powerful and, for the first time, will allow worldwide tracking of aircraft in addition to mobile voice and data services, Iridium chief executive Matt Desch said during an interview in SpaceX's launch webcast. The other 60 will also ride Falcon 9 rockets to orbit out of Vandenberg, on a series of six more launches.
Saturday's launch will boost 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to low Earth orbit.
Elon Musk's SpaceX has successfully returned to flight after launching its first Falcon 9 rocket since the massive, expensive accident in September past year destroyed the vessel along with its payload.
SpaceX Successfully Launches Rocket With Payload of Satellites
SpaceX has rebounded from failure before.
The two-stage rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:54 a.m. carrying a payload for Iridium Communications Inc., which is replacing its entire global network with 70 next-generation satellites.
Earlier this month, an internal investigation concluded that the costly explosion was caused by a failure in a helium tank in the second-stage liquid oxygen tank.
The successful launch on Saturday (14 January) brings the Falcon 9's success rate up to 28 in 30 flights since its debut in 2010. Internal financial documents accessed by the publication also revealed that the company planned to launch 20 rockets in 2016 and 27 this year.
SpaceX announced earlier this month that it had wrapped up its investigation of the September 1 accident.
Some of these launches include additional launches for Iridium, which plans to put at least 70 satellites in space for a satellite constellation.