A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket thundered to life and streaked away from the Florida coast Thursday, boosting a Qatari communications satellite toward orbit. This was the second go-round for that particular first stage.
The payload was a communications satellite for the Middle East, Africa and Europe. If that happens, it would be a major first to see the same rocket successfully carry out three orbital missions. Es'hail-1 was a joint mission, and its services are shared by Es'hailSat and French telecommunications operator Eutelsat. Es'hail 2 features high-speed Ku- and Ka-band transponders, a military communications payload and sophisticated anti-jamming capabilities. And 9 in the title refers to the number of engines in the rocket.
SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, has tied its own record for most rocket launches in one year. During the booster's final moments of its return, the engined reignited to, allowing the four legs of the booster to be deployed at the base of the rocket. Since the pad's last use in May, SpaceX has added a new "crew access arm" meant to load humans onto its Crew Dragon vehicle, which is on track for its first un-crewed test flight in early 2019. The Es'hail 2 will be situated 26 degrees east longitude over the equator. Television views provided by SpaceX showed the stage smoothly descending to touchdown about eight minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff.
The launch was one of two US launches that were to take place Thursday, until the morning launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia was pushed back a day because of the likelihood of poor weather.
SpaceX is set to launch its 18th mission this year at 3:46 p.m. today from Kennedy Space Center's launchpad 39A, the iconic site used by NASA's historic Apollo missions that sent humans to the moon. The company already has recovered rocket boosters several times, both on land and on drone ships at sea.