SpaceX took its time to get back on the launchpad after last year’s fueling “anomaly” that resulted in the loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its cargo. The company conducted a months-long investigation and finally returned to space last weekend with a flawless launch and landing of the first stage booster. Now, the private space firm headed by Elon Musk has posted some awe-inspiring photos of the booster coming in for a landing.
The recent launch of the Iridium satellite mission was notable not only because it was the first for SpaceX since the explosion. This was also the first time it has landed a first stage booster in the Pacific Ocean. All the past landings have taken place either on land or in the Atlantic on the “Just Read The Instructions” Drone ship.
There was a camera on the Falcon 9 that captured the entire landing, but as you might expect, the quality is a bit lacking. It’s kind of amazing it worked at all, but SpaceX was also able to snap some really cool photos of the Falcon 9 as it came in for a landing on the ship. The images were captures remotely, of course. No one is on the drone ship when the rockets comes in for a landing, just in case there’s a problem and it crashes. You can see all of them in the gallery below.

SpaceX hasn’t crashed a booster during landing for a while now — the success rate for standard orbital insertion is really getting up there. For launches that require more power (like geosynchronous orbit insertion) it’s still a risk landing the first stage booster. The eventual goal for SpaceX is to reuse all the boosters it builds multiple times, which would reduce the costs of getting into orbit by a huge margin.
There have been setbacks for SpaceX’s ambitious plans, including an in-flight explosion in 2015 that resulted in the loss of an ISS resupply payload. The incident from last September was eventually tracked to the low temperature of liquid helium as it was being loaded. It caused liquid oxygen in the tank to freeze, making it more vulnerable to ignition. SpaceX has modified its fueling procedures, and this launch (and landing) went off without a hitch.
You can see these photos and others on the SpaceX Flickr account. The photos of the Falcon 9 launch are almost as great as the ones of the landing.