SpaceX successfully landed its powerful Falcon 9 rocket late on Monday night for the first time, a major milestone in the drive to cut costs and waste by making rockets as reusable as planes.
Its engines burning bright orange against the dark night sky, the Falcon 9 made a graceful arc back to Earth and touched down upright at Cape Canaveral, Florida, minutes after launching a payload of satellites to orbit.
The incredible image below shows both the rocket’s take-off and landing using a long exposure. A long exposure photograph shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 lifting off from its launch pad and then returning to a landing zone at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
“The Falcon has landed,” a commentator said above the screams and cheers of people gathered at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
SpaceX, headed by Internet tycoon Elon Musk, is striving to revolutionise the rocket industry, which currently loses many millions of dollars in jettisoned machinery and sophisticated rocket components after each launch.
The rocket reached a height of 125 miles before heading back to Earth and touching down at a former US Air Force rocket and missile testing range that was last used in 1978.
The US space agency NASA applauded the feat.
The stakes were high for SpaceX, which has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to supply the astronauts living at the International Space Station over numerous back-and-forth trips with its Dragon cargo ship.
Just six months ago, a devastating explosion – caused by a faulty strut – destroyed the Falcon 9 about two minutes after launch, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in cargo and equipment bound for the ISS.
The company fixed that problem and also made the newest version of the Falcon 9 about 30 percent more powerful than previous iterations, Musk said.