SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket and satellite into orbit Sunday night from Vandenberg Air Force Base and also safely landed the ship's rocket booster back to Earth, marking a West Coast first for the Hawthorne-based company.
The lift-off came at its scheduled time of 7:21 p.m. SpaceX handled a separation of the rocket stages in flight, creating a stunning sight in the night sky over Southern California, then landed the rocket booster back at its launch site on the California coast. People across Southern California and from as far away as Phoenix and Sacramento posted photos of the launch.
The primary purpose of the mission was to carry an Argentine Earth-observing satellite, known as SAOCOM-1A, into orbit, but SpaceX also wanted to expand its recovery of first stages to its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
SpaceX had previously flown first-stage rockets back to land after Florida launches but had not done so on the West Coast. Previous recapture missions from Vandenberg Air Force Base have landed the rocket on a barge floating in the Pacific Ocean, about 400 miles out to sea.
The launch employed the upgraded Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket. The Block 5 is considered more durable than previous Falcon 9 varieties, capable of flying as many as 10 missions.
The rocket being used in Sunday's mission was previously employed in a June launch.
Booms from the Falcon 9 booster's re-entry into the atmosphere were predicted to shake the Pacific Coast as far southeast as Ventura County.
"Sonic boom warning. This won't be subtle," advised SpaceX founder Elon Musk on his Twitter feed at midday Sunday.
Air Force officials have issued a warning that residents in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties could potentially hear one or more sonic booms due to the launch.
The mission created a spectacular light show visible across the Southland.