SpaceX celebrates historic launch and landing on NASA launch pad

20 Feb 2017

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking off. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX has completed a historic launch and landing of its Falcon 9 rocket, using the same pad as the Apollo missions.

The era of reusable rockets is now truly underway, following the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The day beforehand, the CRS-10 supply mission was postponed just seconds prior to launch after an error was spotted in the craft’s steering controls.

The decision to delay appears to have been a good one, as the craft successfully launched at 2.39pm GMT on 19 February.

On board the private space company’s Dragon capsule was almost 2,500kg of NASA scientific equipment, including a major instrument called SAGE III, which will survey Earth’s upper atmosphere for several years once it is attached to the outside of the International Space Station (ISS).

Also included in the payload was a crystal growth experiment, which will crystallise a monoclonal antibody that is undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of immunological diseases.

NASA said that growing the crystal in space will allow it develop more than it ever could on Earth, as gravity causes crystals to collapse on themselves.

The launch of the rocket also marked a turning point for SpaceX and commercial space companies’ future work with NASA, as its take-off followed in the footsteps of the famous Apollo missions from Launch Complex 39A.

First mission since September explosion

This was the first commercial launch from Kennedy’s historic pad, and SpaceX’s 10th cargo flight to the ISS under NASA’s resupply contract.

For SpaceX, perhaps the biggest achievement was the successful return of its Falcon 9 rocket, which made a soft landing on the NASA pad nine minutes after the initial launch.

It also comes as a relief for the company as it marked the first mission undertaken with cargo since a costly explosion during a previous mission, which, at one stage, SpaceX believed could have been the result of sabotage.

The craft is now expected to make its way to the ISS before docking with the station on Wednesday.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk quietly celebrated the launch by posting a video of the Falcon 9 rocket landing on Instagram.

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic