SpaceX launched 72 small satellites to orbit today (June 12) and landed the returning rocket back on Earth, marking the 200th such touchdown in the company's history.
A Falcon 9 rocket topped with 72 spacecraft lifted off from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base at 5:35 p.m. EDT (2135 GMT; 2:35 p.m. local California time), kicking off a rideshare mission called Transporter-8.
The rocket's first stage came back to Earth for a vertical touchdown at Vandenberg a little less than eight minutes after liftoff as planned. It was the ninth launch and landing for this particular booster, SpaceX wrote in a mission description.
More excitingly, it was the 200th booster landing that SpaceX has pulled off during an orbital mission to date. That tally began in December 2015, and Elon Musk's company has made such touchdowns pretty much routine in the 7.5 years since.
The rocket's upper stage, meanwhile, continued hauling aloft the 72 payloads, which included "cubesats, microsats, a re-entry capsule and orbital transfer vehicles carrying spacecraft to be deployed at a later time," according to a SpaceX mission description.
These satellites deployed as planned from the Falcon 9's upper stage, separating over a 24-minute span beginning an hour after liftoff.
Transporter-8 was SpaceX's second mission in about 14 hours. Early this morning, the company launched 52 of its Starlink internet satellites to orbit from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Transporter-8 was the eighth small-satellite "rideshare" mission that SpaceX has launched to date, and its third such flight of 2023. Transporter-6 launched on Jan. 3, sending 114 satellites to orbit, and Transporter-7 lofted 51 spacecraft on April 15.
SpaceX's first dedicated rideshare mission holds the record for most satellites launched on a single rocket: Transporter-1 carried 143 satellites to orbit in January 2021.