SpaceX launched a German military satellite and landed the returning rocket on Saturday morning (June 18).
A two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off in foggy conditions from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Saturday at 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT; 7:19 a.m. local California time).
The Falcon 9's first stage came down to Earth for a vertical touchdown at Vandenberg a little more than eight minutes after liftoff. It was the third time this booster was used and landed, according to SpaceX officials speaking during the broadcast.
"Welcome back, Falcon 9!" a SpaceX announcer said during the broadcast, after the stage had landed.
The upper stage, meanwhile, will continue carrying to orbit SARah-1, a radar satellite that will be operated by the German military, as well as a handful of "rideshare" spacecraft, according to EverydayAstronaut.com (opens in new tab).
Saturday's launch was the middle mission of a trifecta that SpaceX plans to pull off over a 36-hour stretch. The company launched 53 of its Starlink internet satellites to orbit yesterday (June 17) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, a mission that set a new rocket-reuse record; it was the 13th liftoff for that particular Falcon 9 first stage. (The Falcon 9 flying on Saturday sported a first stage with two launches under its belt, both of them for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, according to a SpaceX mission description (opens in new tab).)
The third launch in the rapid-fire trio is scheduled for early Sunday (June 19), when a Falcon 9 will loft a communications satellite for the Louisiana-based company GlobalStar. That mission will lift off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, which is next door to KSC.
The back-to-back-to-back launches continue a very busy year for SpaceX. Elon Musk's company has now conducted 25 missions in 2022, which works out to about one per week.
While all of these operational rockets get off the ground, SpaceX continues work on its potentially transformational next-generation transportation system, a huge rocket-spaceship combo called Starship. The company is gearing up for the first orbital flight test of Starship, which could happen in the next few months now that a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration environmental review is in the books.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 11 a.m. EDT on June 18 with news of the successful launch and rocket landing.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).