SpaceX executed its 16th Falcon 9 rocket launch of the year today, sending the Koreasat-5A telecommunications satellite into orbit and then having the first-stage booster fly itself back to an oceangoing launch pad.
The mission marked a doubling of SpaceX’s launch tally from last year and signaled that the California-based launch company is hitting its stride, 14 months after a launch pad accident dealt a setback to the Falcon 9 program.
Liftoff came at 3:34 p.m. ET (12:34 p.m. PT) from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Minutes after launch, the Falcon 9’s second stage separated from the first and sent the 8,000-pound satellite on a trajectory heading for geostationary transfer orbit. Meanwhile, the first stage maneuvered itself for a landing on “Of Course I Still Love You,” a drone ship stationed hundreds of miles off the Florida Coast.
The booster landed intact, despite gouts of flame that played around its base. As the webcam view was being broadcast, SpaceX launch commentator John Federspiel joked that the rocket looked “a little toasty.”
Koreasat-5A will take over from the 11-year-old Koreasat-5 satellite and beam satellite data and TV services to Asia and the Middle East, with maritime coverage extending from the Persian Gulf to the East China Sea.
The satellite is operated by South Korea’s KT Sat.
SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 launch is expected to involve putting an undisclosed payload into orbit next month. The payload, code-named “Project Zuma,” is thought to be a rapid-deployment satellite designed for use by a U.S. government agency or a hush-hush commercial venture.