Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX and headed by billionaire Elon Musk, early Friday landed another one of its Falcon 9 rockets on an unmanned barge at sea, marking the second time the company has accomplished the feat.
The nighttime touchdown of the first stage onto a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida wasn't expected to succeed, given the extreme velocities required to insert the JCSAT-14 commercial communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit some 23,000 miles in space after launching from Cape Canaveral.
"Yeah, this was a three engine landing burn, so triple deceleration of last flight. That's important to minimize gravity losses," Musk tweeted afterward.
SpaceX is seeking to develop reusable rockets to reduce launch costs.
The company last week won its first U.S. Air Force contract, a nearly $83 million agreement to deliver a GPS III satellite into orbit. It also has NASA contracts to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and is developing manned spacecraft for the space agency. The same day the firm received the Air Force contract, it unveiled plans to send its Dragon spacecraft on a mission to Mars by 2018.