SpaceX rocket lands at launch site after boosting Dragon Capsule to ISS

An unmanned SpaceX rocket blasted off from Florida early on Monday to send a cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS), then turned around and landed itself back at the launch site.

The 23-storey-tall Falcon 9 rocket, built and flown by Elon Musk's SpaceX, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Dragon capsule was perched on top of the rocket and was filled with nearly 2,268kg of food, supplies and equipment, including a miniature DNA sequencer, the first to fly in space.

Also onboard the capsule was a metal docking ring with a 2.4m diameter that will be attached to the station, letting commercial spaceships under development by SpaceX and Boeing ferry astronauts to the station, which flies approximately 400km above the Earth.

The manned craft are scheduled to begin test flights next year.

Since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles five years ago, the United States has depended on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the station, at a cost of more than £50m per person.

As the Dragon cargo ship began its two-day journey to the station, the main section of the Falcon 9 booster rocket separated and flew itself back to the ground, touching down a few miles south of its seaside launch pad, accompanied by a pair of sonic booms.

"Good launch, good landing, Dragon is on its way," said NASA mission commentator George Diller.

Owned and operated by Musk, the technology entrepreneur who founded Tesla Motors, SpaceX is developing rockets that can be refurbished and re-used, potentially slashing launch costs.

With Monday's touchdown, SpaceX has successfully landed Falcon rockets on the ground twice and on an ocean platform during three of its last four attempts. 

A number of failed attempts were made before perfecting the process, with one botched landing on a barge resulting in the destruction of the rocket.

SpaceX intends to launch one of its recovered rockets as early as this autumn, said Hans Koenigsmann, the firm's vice president for mission assurance.

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