SpaceX, the US aerospace company, has hailed the successful launch and then retrieval of its first recycled rocket, a milestone seen as a historic step in efforts to make space travel cheaper.
The company's Falcon 9 rocket, recovered at sea from its maiden flight last year, on Thursday blasted off from the US state of Florida, in the first successful launch of a recycled orbital-class booster.
The unprecedented twin achievements of re-launching a used rocket and salvaging the vehicle yet again were hailed by Elon Musk, SpaceX's billionaire founder, as a revolutionary step in his quest to slash launch costs and shorten intervals between space shots.
"This is a huge day," said Musk after the launch. "My mind's blown."
It took Space Exploration Technologies Corp, as the California-based company is formally known, 15 years and $1bn to demonstrate that a rocket typically discarded in the ocean after a single flight could be recovered and reused.
Musk said his next goal is to turn the booster around for relaunch in 24 hours, a feat he said could be accomplished before the end of the year.
"The potential is there for (an) over 100-fold reduction in the cost of access to space. If we can achieve that, it means humanity can become a space-faring civilisation and be out there among the stars. This is what we want for the future," he said.
By reusing rockets, SpaceX aims to eventually cut its costs by about 30 percent, according to the company.
It lists the cost of a Falcon 9 ride at $62m but has not yet announced a price for flying on a recycled rocket.
'New era of spaceflight'
The Falcon 9 booster lifted off to put a communications satellite into orbit for longtime customer Luxembourg-based SES SA.
The main section of the booster - the most expensive part of the rocket, according to Musk - then separated from the rest of the rocket and flew itself back to a landing pad in the Atlantic, where it successfully touched down for its second at-sea return.
"We made a little bit of history today ... opened the door into a whole new era of spaceflight," said Martin Halliwell, the chief technology officer for SES, calling it "a big step for everybody - something that's never, ever been done before".
SES was granted insight into the entire process of getting the booster ready to fly again, Halliwell said, providing confidence everything would go well.
SpaceX is also working on a passenger spaceship, with two unidentified tourists signed up for a future trip around the Moon.
The company's long-term goal under Musk is to establish a colony on Mars and ferry people and cargo back and forth between the planets.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies