SpaceX has resumed station deliveries for Nasa – and, in a double triumph, successfully landed its booster rocket on an ocean platform for the first time.
The aerospace firm’s unmanned Falcon rocket soared into a clear afternoon sky, carrying a full load of supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) as well as a futuristic pop-up room.
After sending the Dragon capsule on its way, the first-stage booster peeled away. But instead of dropping into the Atlantic, the 15-storey booster steered to a vertical touchdown on the barge, which was named “Of Course I Still Love You”.
Hundreds of SpaceX employees gathered outside the company’s mission control in Hawthorne, California, celebrated wildly.
“Absolutely incredible,” said a SpaceX commentator. “The crowd is going a little nuts here, as expected.”
Although the company managed to land a spent booster rocket at Cape Canaveral in December, touchdowns at sea have proven elusive, with several attempts ending in explosions on the floating barge.
SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk wants to ultimately reuse rocket parts to cut down on launch costs.
This marks SpaceX’s first shipment for the space station in a year. A launch accident halted cargo flights last June.
The Dragon and its 7,000lbs of freight – including the attention-grabbing payload – should reach the space station on Sunday.
Bigelow Aerospace is providing the expandable compartment, which swells to the size of a small bedroom. It is a testbed for orbiting rental property which the Nevada company hopes to launch in four years. It could also be used for moon and Mars habitats.
SpaceX’s last delivery attempt, in June, ended in flames after just two minutes, doomed by a snapped strut in the oxygen tank of the upper stage.
The company successfully resumed Falcon launches late last year with satellites.