A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Friday with a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station and the launch vehicle’s reusable main-stage booster set to attempt a quick return landing on an ocean platform, NASA said.
The liftoff at 4:43 p.m. from Cape Canaveral marked the resumption of resupply flights by privately owned Space Exploration Technologies for NASA following a launch accident in June 2015 that destroyed a different cargo payload for the space station.
About 2-1/2 minutes after Friday’s launch, the main part of the two-stage SpaceX rocket separated, turned around and headed toward a landing platform floating in the Atlantic about 185 miles (300 km) northeast of Cape Canaveral.
Four previous at-sea landing bids have failed. But a Falcon 9 did achieve a successful ground-based touchdown in December, a key milestone in the quest by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s launch service to develop a cheap, reusable rocket.
The rocket’s cargo ship, dubbed Dragon, was due to arrive on Sunday at the International Space Station, the $100 billion laboratory flying about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
The delivery vehicle was packed with about 7,000 pounds (3,175 kg) of food, supplies and science experiments, including a prototype inflatable habitat, bound for the orbiting outpost.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz from Cape Canaveral; Editing by Steve Gorman and Tom Brown)