SpaceX launched — and landed — a single rocket for the second time in an unprecedented step that could dramatically alter future space travel.
The private spaceflight company delivered a telecommunications satellite to orbit Thursday with the use of a rocket that first launched in April 2016.
Unlike conventional rockets that crash back to Earth after launching their payloads into space, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was designed with a booster system to enable it to land upright and, in theory, be used over and over again.
SpaceX successfully landed eight rockets prior to this week's launch, but Thursday was the first time one of those rockets was deployed again. The rocket could apparently be used a third time following a successful landing aboard a barge off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla.
“It did this mission perfectly. It dropped off the second stage, came back and landed on the drone ship,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during the launch, according to The New York Times. "Right in the bulls-eye."
The ability to use massive, expensive rockets more than once could significantly reduce the cost of launching people and equipment into space, and Musk envisions such systems allowing humans to reach — and colonize — Mars in coming decades.