Private space flight firm SpaceX has successfully landed its first reusable rocket, landing its main booster back at the launch site just minutes after blastoff. It was the firm's first launch since a major mishap.
SpaceX sent its Falcon 9 soaring into space on Monday night, with the first stage returning to land vertically at Cape Canaveral just 10 minutes after it had blasted off.
A crowd of employees cheered as the main reusable booster landed back on the launch pad, having separated from the second stage and its orbit-bound payload.
The tall white rocket section glided back down to earth with its thrusters burning orange to guide the descent.
"The Falcon has landed," said a commentator, above yells and cheers from those gathered at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
As well as landing the rocket's first stage, the firm said it had been successful in deploying all 11 of the communications satellites that it was carrying into low-Earth orbit.
The main stage landed 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the launch site, with the rocket having fired its boosters in reverse and deployed landing legs to occupy a newly refurbished landing pad.
The path of the rocket booster was set according to an orbital realignment with the launch area. SpaceX tweeted a long-exposure photo of the launch and relaunch, showing the ascent and descent trail of the rocket section.
NASA, which has a $1.6 billion contract with SpaceX for the delivery of supplies to astronauts living at the International Space Station (ISS) was keenly following the news.
On a previous launch in June, a Falcon 9 rocket failed shortly after lift-off and destroyed a supply ship that was on its way to ISS. It took months to correct the problem and SpaceX hopes to resume NASA supply runs with its "Dragon" capsules from February.
SpaceX, headed by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, is hoping to slash costs for the rocket launch industry. Currently, millions of dollars worth of jettisoned machinery and sophisticated components are lost each time a vessel is launched.
Several previous attempts to land the Falcon 9's first stage on a platform at sea off the coast from Jacksonville, Florida, have failed.
Last month, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said his rocket company Blue Origin had successfully landed its New Shepard rocket after a suborbital flight.
rc/av (dpa, AFP)