SpaceX launches Korean satellite, sticks rocket landing

Elon Musk's erratic behavior and insulting comments to a rescue worker have raised questions about his ability to lead the companies he founded, Tesla and SpaceX (AFP Photo/PETER PARKS)

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Monday carrying a South Korean communications satellite that aims to boost broadband and broadcast coverage for southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The tall, white rocket rumbled and roared into the blue sky over Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:34 pm (1934 GMT), propelling Koreasat-5A toward a distant, geostationary orbit some 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) from Earth.

The satellite is designed to replace an earlier version, called Koreasat 5, which launched in 2006.

"Liftoff!" the California-based company said on Twitter as live images on SpaceX's webcast showed the rocket climbing ever higher above Earth.

Just minutes after launch, the rocket separated and the tall portion, called the first stage, fired its engines and maneuvered its grid fins to guide itself back to an upright landing on an ocean platform.

Less than nine minutes after takeoff, the scorched rocket touched down on a droneship marked with an X and labeled "Of Course I Still Love You."

"A little toasty but the Stage 1 is certainly intact on the droneship," said a SpaceX commentator, as video images showed the rocket standing upright on the platform.

Monday's launch marked the 16th for SpaceX so far this year.

Headed by space enthusiast and solar energy entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX is working on re-using rocket parts after launch -- rather than jettisoning them onto the ocean as is the typical practice.

So far, the company has managed to land more than a dozen rockets after take-off, whether on solid ground or floating ocean platforms.

The goal is to save money and eventually bring down the cost of space travel.

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