PHOTOS: Dragon's Bounty: SpaceX Mission Complete
In a related program, SpaceX has been testing another Falcon rocket stage called Grasshopper to develop precision takeoff and landing techniques. Combined with Sunday's tests, engineers now have data covering all the stages of the flight back to Earth.
"We have all the pieces necessary to achieve a full recovery of the boost stage ... That's actually what has got me most excited about this flight," Musk said.
The boost stage accounts for 75 percent of the rocket's cost, he added.
The company expects to be able to demonstrate recovery of a Falcon 9 first-stage next year.
NEWS: SpaceX California Falcon 9 Launch Debut On Hold
SpaceX successfully flew five of its original Falcon 9 rockets, three of which carried Dragon cargo capsules to the International Space Station for NASA, before Sunday's test flight of the upgraded booster, known as Falcon 9 v1.1.
The rocket, which was launched from a new complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, has engines that are 60 percent more powerful than previous versions, longer fuel tanks, new avionics and software, and other features intended to boost lift capacity and simplify operations for commercial flight services.