Recycled Falcon 9 rocket survives one of SpaceX’s most challenging landings yet

Challenge accepted.
rocket landing
Today's rocket booster came down hard, but otherwise it was a successful landing. Screengrab

Today at 3:10pm Eastern, SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket lofted a Bulgarian communications satellite into space. While BulgariaSat-1 was still making its way into its proper orbit, the first stage of the rocket returned for a landing on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

SpaceX has landed its boosters on drone ships many times before, but this one was a particular challenge.

The rocket, which was refurbished after its first launch in January of this year, had to send BulgariaSat-1 into a particularly high orbit today. That means the booster had to endure extra heat—and thus extra jostling—while crashing back into Earth’s atmosphere. The land wasn’t super smooth, but the rocket survived, and that’s pretty impressive.

This is SpaceX’s second time flying a used rocket—an important component to proving that its reusable rockets might actually make spaceflight cheaper. Whereas the first reused rocket waited a year between its two launches, today’s launch shows that SpaceX is able to refurbish the Falcon 9 first stage boosters in six months or less. Quick refurbishment is key to cutting the costs of spaceflight. Ultimately, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hopes to fly the boosters out again the next day—so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.