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Reused Rocket Takes Off Carrying 64 Satellites

Falcon 9 first stage landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship — completing this rocket booster’s third launch and landing this year. (Twitter\SpaceX)

A SpaceX rocket carrying 64 small satellites lifted off from California on Monday, marking the first time the same Falcon 9 rocket has been used in three space missions.

The rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, arcing over the Pacific Ocean west of Los Angeles as it headed toward space.

Minutes later, the rocket's first stage performed a so-called boost back maneuver and landed on an unmanned ship in the Pacific. The landing marked the first time SpaceX had flown a first stage three times.

The first stage was previously launched and recovered during missions in May and August as part of a program intended to make the equipment capable of being used 10 or more times without refurbishment.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has made reusability a major goal.

The payload of the Spaceflight SSO-A SmallSat Express includes satellites from 34 organizations in 17 countries. Full deployment into low Earth orbit was expected to take six hours.

SpaceX was also attempting to use an enormous net atop a vessel to catch the Falcon's aerodynamic shield over the payload that gets jettisoned at high altitude and falls back to Earth.

The shield is equipped with parachutes and would add another reusable element to the spacecraft.

The 64-satellite payload was a record for a U.S.-based launch vehicle, SpaceX said.