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Falcon 9 descent
The Falcon 9 rocket’s first-stage booster descends through the clouds. (SpaceX Photo)

SpaceX’s first-ever commercial rocket launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center was picture-perfect, but the landing was arguably even more photogenic – or should we say “dronogenic”?

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket quickly rose into the clouds over Launch Pad 39A, the Florida takeoff point for Apollo moon missions and space shuttle flights. Within just a few minutes, SpaceX’s robotic Dragon capsule separated from the rocket and headed toward the International Space Station for a cargo delivery.

Meanwhile, a camera-equipped drone captured a thrilling view of the Falcon 9’s first-stage booster descending through the clouds, firing its engines and touching down on SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, on the Florida coast not far from where its flight began:

SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, posted a zoomed-in view to Instagram.

This was the third time SpaceX brought down a booster successfully at Landing Zone 1. The other touchdowns took place in December 2015 and July 2016. SpaceX has also successfully landed Falcon 9 first stages on a seagoing platform five times.

The point of the exercise is to reuse the boosters and drive down the cost of space launches accordingly. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has estimated that such reusability could reduce the price of a Falcon 9 launch by 30 percent.

SpaceX is getting a refurbished booster ready for the first such re-launch, which is due to put a European-built telecommunications satellite into orbit.

“We should fly a flight-proven booster this March, here, for the SES-10 mission,” Shotwell told reporters at Launch Complex 39A last week. “Out of this pad. Very exciting.”

Check out these very exciting images from today’s launch and landing, gleaned from SpaceX’s Flickr photostream:

Hangar and pad
SpaceX’s rocket hangar is in the foreground as the Falcon 9 lifts off. (SpaceX Photo)
Another angle on the liftoff highlights the former shuttle launch pad. (SpaceX Photo)
Falcon at landing zone
The Falcon 9 booster fires its engines just above Landing Zone 1. (SpaceX Photo)
The Falcon 9 booster sits intact at Landing Zone 1. The booster will be trucked to SpaceX’s hangar for inspection and refurbishment. (SpaceX Photo)

Bonus: Replay this drone’s-eye view of Blue Origin rocket landing

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