With a historic landing, SpaceX launches new age of spaceflight

Behold: The launch, and landing, of an orbital rocket. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX did it. On Monday night the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket soared into space, separated from the second stage, and then made a guided flight back to a landing site in Florida. The historic flight marked the beginning of the orbital economy by promising a future of dramatically lower launch costs.

The company had twice tried to land on an autonomous drone ship. The first time the rocket hit too hard and exploded on impact. The second attempt again landed slightly too hard, breaking two of its legs and tipping over. The third attempt, at a newly designated landing site less than a mile from SpaceX's processing facilities in Florida, looked almost too easy on terra firma.

"I wasn't at all confident that we would succeed, but I'm really glad of it," Musk said in a teleconference Monday night, in response to a question from Ars. "It's been 13 years since SpaceX was started. We've had a lot of close calls. I think people here are overjoyed."

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