A Japanese communications satellite was launched into space on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral early today. The satellite reached an on-target orbit as the launcher's first stage booster made a landing on a platform in the Atlantic Ocean, logging another achievement for SpaceX's cost-cutting reuse initiative.
The successful satellite deployment comes as the Falcon 9's fifth consecutive flawless flight in less than five months, and the 24th mission of the rocket overall.
With yesterday's launch, the rocket achieved its primary and secondary objectives, placing the JCSAT 14 communications satellite into orbit, and returning its booster stage to a purely experimental landing on a ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
The 229-foot-tall Falcon 9's nine Merlin 1D first stage engines, built up 1.5 million pounds of thrust, as it soared off from Cape Canaveral's Complex 40 launch pad at 1:21 am EDT (0521 GMT) today.
A minute after the launch, the rocket streaked off into the stratosphere and dropped its first stage at the mission's 2-minute, 41-second point.
The booster made a soft landing on the deck of SpaceX's robotic "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship at 1:30 am EDT (0530 GMT) nine minutes after the launch.
Space X headquarters in Hawthorne, California erupted in chants of "USA, USA" as the booster landed on the ship stationed about 200 miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
Company CEO and founder Elon Musk tweeted "Woohoo!" in a celebratory reaction.
The success comes after the launch of SpaceX's robotic Dragon cargo capsule toward the International Space Station and a similar landing on the drone ship, last month (See: SpaceX lands part of Falcon 9 rocket on drone ship at sea ).
But the company was not expecting success this morning, as the two-stage Falcon 9 had to send JCSAT-14 to a much more distant geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
"Given this mission's GTO destination, the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing unlikely," SpaceX representatives wrote in a description of the JCSAT-14 mission.