SpaceX today launched 10 Iridium satellites on its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket before flying the first stage of the rocket back to a floating landing platform in the Pacific.
This launch marks the first flight since a Falcon 9 rocket caught fire and was destroyed during a routine engine test in September, which left the company scrambling to assure clients and regulators that its technology is up to snuff. Today’s launch brings the Falcon 9’s success rate up to 28 in 30 flights since its debut in 2010.
The 10-satellite load is one of the heaviest cargos the company has flown to orbit, and while this is the seventh successful landing of the rocket’s first stage, it is the first time SpaceX has done so after flying from its facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Since its debut, the Falcon 9 has provided a cheaper rocket than its incumbent competitors, allowing it to gain market share in at their expense. It has quickly won a major chunk of the commercial launch market and broke the Boeing-Lockheed Martin duopoly on US national-security launches. But a failed mission in 2015 and last year’s fire both put a damper on the company’s plans to move past the rocket on to new projects, forcing it to spend time and money perfecting the technology.
This latest successful launch should allow the company to start making inroads on its long list of contracts to launch rockets on behalf of commercial and government clients—the company’s most important source of revenue—while returning its attention to its next set of projects, many of them now suffering under delays.
Topping the list is reusing the rocket stages like the one the company landed on its drone ship today. Re-flying those booster stages promises the cut the cost of SpaceX launches even further and put more pressure on its competitors, but it has to prove that both the original rockets and the “flight-proven” boosters are reliable. The company planned to launch a satellite for European operators SES towards the end of 2016; that launch is now expected to occur sometime this year.