Commercial spaceflight company SpaceX enjoyed a triumphal moment this evening, conducting its first-ever landing of a Falcon 9 rocket on dry land after a successful launch on Monday.
Livestreams from SpaceX’s headquarters showed employees breaking into cheers as the rocket touched down at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Creating reusable rockets that can land and relaunch is considered a major technological milestone that will significantly lower the cost of space travel. Multiple space companies were competing to achieve this breakthrough, but SpaceX is the first to succeed in landing a rocket for a non-suborbital trip.
Unlike previous attempts, where SpaceX landed their rockets on ocean platforms, this was the first where the Falcon 9 rocket was able to land on dry ground.
The mission’s primary objective was commercial: the company had been commissioned to launch satellites for the New Jersey-based communications company OrbComm. This was also a success, with all 11 satellites now in orbit around Earth.
However, this will likely be dwarfed by the wider significance of SpaceX’s achievement, which has brought us a step closer to cheap, reusable rockets. As this technology develops, it will make recreational space travel, new manned expeditions to the Moon, and even to Mars, considerably more cost-effective.
It’s a welcome end to the year for SpaceX, which had to deal with a debacle in June when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after takeoff, destroying a supply shipment intended for the International Space Station. According to SpaceX, the explosion was caused by a failed strut in the rocket’s upper state liquid-oxygen tank.
SpaceX is led by Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors. “It’s a revolutionary moment,” Musk told the press after the landing. “No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact.”
It’s unlikely we’ll be wandering around on Mars anytime this year. But the prospect of viable, low-cost, private sector space travel suddenly seems a little less sci-fi.