Hawthorne, Calif. -based SpaceX has been landing rocket boosters regularly at its Florida launch sites, but the California landing pad could allow the company to refurbish rockets at Vandenberg.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the SAOCOM 1A satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:21 p.m. PDT. Residents in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties may hear sonic booms.
SpaceX had already pulled off more than two dozen first-stage landings during orbital liftoffs, with the boosters coming down on robotic "drone ships" stationed in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and on terra firma at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The satellite is the first of two that will be used for emergency management and for land monitoring.
Some of the pictures showed the Falcon 9 rocket separating and leaving a rocket trail behind.
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Thanks to the low-energy orbit, relatively small satellite, and Falcon 9 Block 5's healthy performance margins, B1048 likely experienced the most forgiving recovery conditions since SpaceX began landing and reusing boosters, making the rocket a prime candidate to be the first SpaceX Falcon 9 booster to fly three times. The rocket boosted an Argentine environmental satellite into orbit.
The Saocom-1A launch places SpaceX one mission away from tying its record of 18 launches in one year, set in 2017. It, too, found success in landing at a new site north of Los Angeles.
SpaceX has been working with the US government and on its own private ventures, which eventually could include private space travel, according to Musk, who also is the founder and CEO of the electric auto company Tesla. The mission's main goal is to gather soil moisture information.
SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launched advanced rockets and spacecrafts.
SpaceX has a second CONAE satellite, Saocom-1B, that it is also tasked with launching.