Photos: SpaceX rocket launches, then lands, on Space Force mission

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These photos show the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket June 17 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, carrying a GPS navigation satellite into orbit for the U.S. Space Force. Once its job was complete, the rocket’s first stage booster returned to a landing on a SpaceX drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket lifted off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral at 12:09 p.m. EDT (1609 GMT) with the Space Force’s GPS 3 SV05 navigation satellite. Nine Merlin engines generated 1.7 million pounds of ground-shaking thrust to power the Falcon 9 off the launch pad.

Two-and-a-half minutes later, the first stage shut down its engines and separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage, which continued into orbit with the GPS payload.

The 15-story booster stage extended grid fins and used cold gas thrusters to orient itself for the plunge back into the atmosphere, culminating in a landing burn with a single Merlin engine to brake for touchdown. During the braking burn, the rocket unfolded four carbon-aluminum composite landing legs to settle onto the deck of the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” positioned about 400 miles (650 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral.

These images show the Falcon 9 firing into the sky during launch, then show the booster’s final descent back to the drone ship. The drone ship images were captured with remote cameras.

Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography
Credit: SpaceX

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