SpaceX's upgraded Falcon 9 rocket appeared to complete a successful first launch today, blasting off from California and placing a Canadian science satellite in orbit.
The taller, 224-foot rocket lifted off at noon Eastern from Vandenberg Air Force Base, propelled by Merlin 1D engines that provided 50 percent more thrust than the original Falcon 9.
The first and second stages separated, and a 43-foot payload fairing flying for the first time.
Communication links were lost before deployment of the small Cassiope satellite, but the Canadian Space Agency confirmed after 1 p.m. that the spacecraft was in orbit and communicating with the ground.
A launch Webcast reported that the rocket's first stage had relit to begin an attempt to guide the stage to a soft ocean landing, part of an early test of systems needed to recover and reuse boosters.
SpaceX did not immediately confirm the outcome of that effort and whether the booster would be recovered.
If all went well today, the company could proceed with its next Falcon 9 launch, of a commercial communications satellite, within a month or so from Cape Canaveral.