Camera images from the drone ship show the Falcon 9 first stage coming in on target April 8. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket into space on April 8, and after the first stage delivered its payload, the vehicle descended back to Earth and landed on an autonomous drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Now the company hopes to repeat that sea-based feat under more dynamically challenging conditions. The launch earlier this month carried a Dragon spacecraft, destined for the International Space Station about 400km above the surface. With a launch tentatively set for May 3 during the early morning hours, SpaceX plans to deliver a Japanese broadcast satellite into orbit 22,000km above the planet's surface.

This means that the first stage will accelerate to a greater velocity, moving almost parallel to the surface and away from the launch site, before it releases the second stage and the primary payload. This trajectory will leave the vehicle with far less fuel to arrest this horizontal motion, and to control its descent to the barge waiting below.

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