CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Monday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and successfully delivered six commercial communications satellites to orbit.
SpaceX also said it flew the 224-foot rocket's first stage back to a splashdown zone in the Atlantic Ocean in the company's latest test aimed at developing a reusable booster, but the stage apparently did not survive fully intact.
"Rocket booster reentry, landing burn & leg deploy were good, but lost hull integrity right after splashdown (aka kaboom)," SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said on Twitter.
Further review of telemetry data would determine if the hard impact occurred at splashdown or afterward when the stage tipped over on its side in a "body slam," he said.
The 224-foot rocket rumbled with 1.3 million pounds of thrust from its Launch Complex 40 pad on a northeast arc over the Atlantic Ocean to begin a mission that had suffered numerous delays.
The upper stage's Merlin engine cut off about 10 minutes after its 11:15 a.m. liftoff, and Orbcomm (ORBC) Generation 2 satellites were scheduled to begin deploying 15 minutes after liftoff.
Marc Eisenberg, chief executive of Orbcomm, later confirmed that the launch "nailed the orbit," the OG2 satellites had deployed as planned about 500 miles up and they had communicated with ground stations in Australia.
The satellites are the start of a $230 million, 17-satellite constellation upgrading Orbcomm's communications services with more capacity and coverage. The remainder could be launched later this year on another Falcon 9.
Technical problems with the range, rocket and a satellite had delayed launch attempts since April. Two countdowns were scrubbed and a third was postponed this past month.
SpaceX planned to steer the Falcon 9 booster to a soft landing in the ocean and retrieve it with boats in another test aimed at developing a reusable rocket.
The company succeeded in returning the booster to the water after its most recent launch in April, but stormy seas destroyed the stage. Future missions hope to fly the booster back to land.
The launch was the 10th of a Falcon 9 since 2010 and fifth with the rocket's upgraded "version 1.1" since this past fall. SpaceX plans to launch another commercial communications satellite from Cape Canaveral next month.
United Launch Alliance is up next with a planned July 23 launch of a pair of military satellites on a Delta IV rocket.