SpaceX's Falcon 9 Rocket Puts on Light Show in Tonight's Sky

The first Block 5 Falcon 9 at Kennedy Space Center.                  SpaceX

The first Block 5 Falcon 9 at Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX

Scores of people across San Diego County watched - and in many cases photographed - the contrail of a Falcon 9 rocket that soared into space on Sunday night from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc.

Proving out a successful booster retrieval system on the West Coast marks another step in SpaceX's drive to increase rocket reusability and as a result drive down the cost of access to space.

SpaceX has flown boosters back to land after launches from Florida but has yet to do so in California.

SpaceX has previously launched a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg and landed it offshore in the Pacific Ocean aboard a droneship. But that's possible only when launching relatively light payloads to not-too-distant orbits; on other missions, there's not enough fuel left for the Falcon 9 first stage to maneuver all the way back to land. This facility, which SpaceX leases from the Air Force, used to feature two launch pads, known as SLC-4 East and SLC-4 West. SpaceX has converted the western one into a landing site and launches Falcon 9s from the eastern one. Elon Musk's company had leased a former Titan rocket launch site in 2015 to build its own landing pad, but it it hasn't received clearance.

A graphic explaining sonic booms, provided by Vandenberg Air Force Base ahead of a planned SpaceX launch on October 7, 2018.

SAOCOM 1A 3,000-kilogram satellite built by INVAP and this deployment was done in conjunction with Argentina's space agency with the objective of radar-imaging the earth.

The SAOCOM 1 mission aims to study soil moisture using synthetic-aperture radar readings from two identical satellites in low Earth orbit, SAOCOM 1A and 1B.

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