SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket executed its first on-land touchdown on the West Coast tonight after sending Argentina’s SAOCOM 1A satellite into orbit, putting on a show punctuated by a sonic boom for Southern California.
After a trouble-free countdown, the two-stage rocket blasted off right on time at 7:21 p.m. PT from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, leaving a post-sunset contrail glowing in the cloudless skies above.
Minutes after launch, the rocket’s second stage separated from the first-stage booster and continued rising spaceward. The booster, meanwhile, relit its engines to maneuver itself for the return trip to SpaceX’s landing zone, not far from the launch pad. The retro firings slowed the rocket down from supersonic speeds, setting off a sonic boom that could be heard in some areas (but not others).
Cheers went up from SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., as webcams showed the first stage setting itself down on Landing Zone 4. (The other landing zones are in Florida for East Coast launches.)