Elon Musk is riding high on a wave of well-deserved congratulations today after his space startup achieved something last night that's never been achieved before.
At Florida's Cape Canaveral, SpaceX launched a rocket loaded with satellites into orbit, safely delivered its payload, then returned the booster back to Earth upright and intact.
“Welcome back, baby!” Musk triumphantly tweeted moments after Falcon 9’s historic vertical landing. "It's a revolutionary moment," he later said. "No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact."
The upgraded Falcon 9 lifted off at 8:29 p.m. ET, equipped with 11 small data-relay satellites. The commercial payload, delivered for a communications technology firm called Orbcomm of Rochelle Park, N.J., deployed about 500 miles into low-Earth orbit. Ten minutes after blastoff, the 15-story leftover booster gently touched down, sticking the landing flawlessly.
It was a remarkable feat, a huge win for SpaceX and for the reusable rocket industry on the whole, in that the rockets will cut down on the costs of space travel significantly. (Rockets have historically been used only once and then disposed of.)
11 satellites deployed to target orbit and Falcon has landed back at Cape Canaveral. Headed to LZ-1. Welcome back, baby!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2015
Until now, Musk’s Hawthorne, Calif.-based commercial space company had yet to successfully land and reuse its Falcon 9 rockets. Twice the rockets had botched landing attempts on a floating platform in the Atlantic ocean, ending in fiery explosions.
Last night Musk briefly suspected he was in for yet another failed landing. He told reporters that he thought the sonic boom of the rocket as it touched down was the sound of it exploding. It was only when SpaceX mission control confirmed that the booster had survived touching down in one piece that the billionaire inventor-entrepreneur realized he’d made history.
“I can't quite believe it," he said. "It's quite shocking."
Landing from helo https://t.co/dYomRtG0Xs— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 22, 2015
While Musk celebrated with his team at the launch site in Florida, Jeff Bezos tweeted his congrats, somewhat passive aggressively recognizing SpaceX for sticking the historic landing. “Welcome to the club!” the Amazon and Blue Origin founder said, though his space startup’s own recent reusable rocket mission didn’t blast as deep into sub-orbit and didn’t fire a single satellite into space, let alone 11 of them.
Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) December 22, 2015
To witness SpaceX’s crowning moment unfold, start to finish, watch the full webcast of the launch and landing below.