CAPE CANAVERAL (AP) - SpaceX pulled off another rocket landing Friday, the third in just under two months. The first-stage booster of the unmanned Falcon rocket settled vertically onto a barge 400 miles off Florida's east coast, eight minutes after the late afternoon liftoff. Cameras on the barge provided stunning, real-time video.
"Falcon 9 has landed!" said a SpaceX flight commentator.
The touchdown occurred after the rocket launched an Asian communications satellite. Like the last successful landing, this one was especially difficult given the speed and heat of the incoming 15-story booster.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said via Twitter that the rocket's landing speed was close to the design maximum, thus the back and forth motion. He said it was probably OK, "but some risk of tipping." No one was aboard the barge at touchdown for safety reasons.
PHOTOS: Launch 37-photo popup gallery
SpaceX's first booster landing actually occurred in December — on land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The California-based company followed up with a successful touchdown on its floating platform in the Atlantic in early April, then again May 6. All three of those recovered boosters are now side by side, horizontally, in a SpaceX hangar. The second recovered booster will be tested and should fly on another mission later this year.
Musk wants to recycle boosters to lower launch costs and open space up to more payloads and people. These first-stage boosters normally are discarded in the ocean. SpaceX is the only one ever to land the stages left over from orbital missions.
NASA is a major customer; SpaceX flies cargo to the International Space Station and aims to transport astronauts, too, by the end of next year.
A glitch in the rocket's engine system prevented liftoff Thursday.