Under a bright moonlit sky, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket laden with supplies for the International Space Station early Monday.
Just a few minutes after Monday's liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rocket's main section separated, turned around and softly landed upright on the ground a few kilometers from the launch site.
Among its cargo, the rocket is carrying one of two docking rings to the International Space Station, a crucial step in enabling U.S. commercial space taxis to ferry astronauts to the orbiting lab.
After the metal docking ring attaches to a berthing port on the station, it will serve as a parking space for commercial spaceships under development by SpaceX and Boeing. The manned craft are scheduled to begin test flights next year.
Last year, a SpaceX rocket carrying one of these rings broke apart shortly after liftoff.
SpaceX has pulled off vertical landings of leftover boosters four times since December. The company hopes to launch its first recycled rocket later this year.