In Photos: SpaceX Launches X-37B Space Plane, Lands Falcon 9 Rocket

Main Engine Cutoff


Roughly 2.5 minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9's two stages separated. While the second stage continued hauling the X-37B to orbit, the first stage turned around to stick an upright landing at Cape Canaveral.

Grid Fins Deployed


Before reentry, the Falcon 9 rocket deployed its hypersonic grid fins, which help to guide the rocket stage as it returns to Earth for an upright landing.

Stage 1 Entry Burn


About 2 minutes and 20 seconds before touchdown, the Falcon 9's first stage began its reentry burn.

Homing in on Florida


Florida comes into view as the Falcon 9 prepares for landing.

Stage 1 Landing Burn


Just seconds before landing, the Falcon 9 performed its final landing burn to slow down its approach.

'X' Marks the Spot


The Falcon 9 first stage approaches Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to KSC.

Almost There


The Falcon 9 rocket had a smooth descent on its way to Landing Zone 1. This marked SpaceX's first use of titanium alloy grid fins (seen extended at top) instead of aluminum fins for stability during descent and landings.

Stay on Target


Right on target, the Falcon 9 makes its final approach for a touchdown at Landing Zone 1. The landing would mark SpaceX's 16th booster touchdown for a Falcon 9 first stage.

Another Success for SpaceX!


Touchdown! After 8 minutes and 14 seconds, the Falcon 9 successfully completed its mission with another impressive upright landing. This was the 16th such landing for SpaceX.

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.