Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hits Major Milestone With Rocket Launch

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launching into orbit in a starry night sky
Tom Cross / Flickr (GPL)

For the first time in history, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched a rocket into orbit over Southern California and then successfully returned the booster back at its origin site on land. The Hawthorne-based company lifted-off its Falcon 9 rocket Sunday evening from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, lighting up the night sky with a brilliant display, according to TMZ.

Sunday’s launch wasn’t just for show. The purpose of the mission was to take an Earth-observing satellite called SAOCOM-1A into orbit. The satellite belongs to Argentina’s Space Agency and is used primarily to gather soil moisture information and crop yields. At the same time, SpaceX wanted to test out its ability to recover the rocket’s first stages.

Until now, SpaceX has returned its booster back to land in Florida. SpaceX has also launched from the Vandenberg Air Force base and landed its rocket on a barge floating 400 miles out to sea in the Pacific Ocean. This marks the first time that the company has returned its first stages to land on the West Coast.

“Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage returned to land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4) at Vandenberg Air Force Base. This was SpaceX’s first land landing on the West Coast. LZ-4 is built on the former site of Space Launch Complex 4W, from which Titan rockets were previously launched,” the company announced.

Elon Musk used Twitter to alert people in Southern California to be prepared for some loud noises in the area with the launch. He told locals to be ready for one or more sonic booms that “won’t be subtle.”

“Local residents may see the first stage of the Falcon 9 returning to Vandenberg AFB, including multiple engine burns associated with the landing. During the landing attempt residents from Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties may hear one or more sonic booms,” Vandenberg Air Force Base warned residents.

According to BBC, the Sunday evening launch created a brilliant display that Californians were able to witness as far away as Lake Tahoe. After the rocket took off, it was about eight minutes before the booster successfully returned to base.

The rocket that was used in this mission had previously been launched in June. This particular rocket is an upgraded Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 and has the ability to fly up to 10 times before being retired. The company says that this is the 30th time they have landed a booster.