Before landing, however, the booster helped deliver 64 small satellites to orbit for a variety of companies.
Lifting off at 10:34 a.m. PST (18:34 UTC) on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California, the company's Falcon 9 rocket delivered the largest number of satellites to be orbited by a US launch provider on a single flight.
The sooty nature of the first stage is striking in the images above, all the more so because of the pure black interstage, which contrasts with the pristine white upper stage and payload fairing at the top of the rocket.
As if to put an exclamation point on the feat, the company also successfully landed the reused Falcon 9 booster on one of its drone ships in the Pacific Ocean, which means it could possibly be used again for a fourth time.
Falcon 9 rocket is flying on its third mission, a first because no SpaceX rocket has ever flown more than twice.
After the launch, Musk tweeted that the two pieces of the fairing missed the net, but landed nearby in the ocean. Mr. Steven is picking them up.
"Plan is to dry them out & launch again", Musk wrote. "Nothing wrong with a little swim", Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, said on Twitter. "Spaceflight's deployments are expected to occur over a period of six hours".
Now, SpaceX and its workhorse vehicle is ready to set the record for most satellites launched by a single American rocket. In February 2017 India's space agency ISRO launched 104 satellites on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle - 88 of them for USA company Planet. SpaceX has postponed the rocket's mission since mid-November due to booster checks and bad weather at the lift-off area.
The payload of the Spaceflight SSO-A SmallSat Express includes satellites from 34 organizations in 17 countries.
Several startups booked their first spacecraft on the mission, such as in-space relay company Audacy, radar startup Capella Space, and radio-frequency signal mapper Hawkeye 360. Lawrence died while training a junior pilot in landing techniques at Edwards Air Force Base in 1967. To honor his work, Spaceflight is sending a bust of Lawrence enclosed in a 24-karat-gold jar on the big day.
Going into Monday's flight, SpaceX's record stood at 19 successful drone ship recoveries, 11 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and one at Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angeles.
Previous SpaceX launches from Vandenberg have created impressive light shows over the Southland and the entire southwestern United States.
The massive influx of new satellites into low-Earth orbit poses hard questions for the space sector, particularly when it comes to orbital debris.