Last Monday's commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station was a perfect night launch from Cape Canaveral, topped off by a successful return to launch site, which means SpaceX landed a Falcon 9 first stage back at the launch site, while the Dragon capsule it sent to orbit continued on to dock with the ISS. This landing marks the second time SpaceX has returned a rocket intact to a launch site on land. Rocketry doesn't get more picture perfect than this:
...and then Falcon 9 returns to its launch site a few minutes after lift-off.
This picture shows the landing burn just before touchdown.
The above long exposure image shows a familiar night sight on the Cape: a launch into orbit on the left. Not so familiar are the landing burn on the right and the re-entry burn visible at the center top of the image. Falcon 9 performs three burns to land: the boostback burn right after payload separation, which reorients the rocket in orbit in preparation for landing. This is followed by the re-entry burn. Spent rockets used to burn up in the atmosphere at this point. SpaceX's technological advances guide them back to Earth for re-use. The third and final burn occurs just before landing.
Falcon 9 returns to land next to the launch location.
After Dragon docked to the International Space Station on Thursday, NASA shared the following two tweets:
.@SpaceX #Dragon now berthed to the @Space_Station as of 10:03am ET. Hatches to be opened on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/qUNmJxTq12— NASA (@NASA) July 20, 2016
The hatches between #Dragon and station are open and the crew will begin unloading cargo: https://t.co/19JfOxqJXt pic.twitter.com/bJMCAxE3iZ— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) July 20, 2016