SpaceX Makes Spectacular Return to Flight, Launching 10 Satellites Into Orbit

Elon Musk's private spaceflight company also nailed its first California ocean rocket landing minutes after sending the payload into space.

SpaceX made a triumphant return to flight on Saturday sending a batch of communications satellites into orbit for Iridium then nailing a fly-back of the rocket's first stage to a platform floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Blastoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California occurred at 9:54 a.m. PST (12:54 p.m. EST) marking the first flight of a Falcon 9 rocket in five months.

Nine minutes later, the rocket's 14-story tall first stage landed itself on a platform in the ocean, SpaceX's seventh successful recovery of a booster and its first from California.

"Mission looks good. Started deploying the 10 Iridium satellites. Rocket is stable on the droneship," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted.

"All satellites deployed," he added when he received confirmation of all satellites being deployed shortly after 11 a.m. PST.

The primary goal of the mission, the 30th for Elon Musk's space company, was to deliver the first 10 communications satellite for Virginia-based Iridium, which is planning a $3 billion upgrade of its network.

SpaceX has seven launch contracts to fly 70 satellites of the planned 81-member constellation.

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The new spacecraft are faster, more powerful and, for the first time, will allow worldwide tracking of aircraft in addition to mobile voice and data services, Iridium chief executive Matt Desch said during an interview in SpaceX's launch webcast.

For SpaceX, Saturday's launch marked the start of a busy year that could include up to 27 launches. The company has been grounded since Sept 1 when a rocket burst into flames during fueling for a routine prelaunch test.

SpaceX's next launch is expected to be from a new launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.