SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket returns to Space Coast

Rocket sent Dragon capsule to space station

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – The first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched on Friday has returned to the Space Coast.

SpaceX confirmed the booster's early morning arrival at Port Canaveral on its official Twitter and Instagram accounts around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. In a photo, the charred first stage of the rocket stands tall on the "Of Course I Still Love You" autonomous ship near the port's 273-foot-tall cranes.

[PICS: SpaceX rocket launch, landing ]



The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:43 p.m. Friday, carrying a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

About 10 minutes later, the first stage landed -- and amazingly remained upright -- on the ship stationed more than 200 miles down range in the Atlantic Ocean.

It was the first time SpaceX succeeded in landing a rocket stage at sea, after four previous tries came close but ended with the stage crashing or tipping over, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

A Falcon 9 booster landed on a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in December. But roughly half of SpaceX's missions cannot return to land because of their speed and trajectory, so sticking a water landing was a big step toward showing the company can recover more rockets for reuse.

Once it arrives in port, SpaceX plans to lift the 14-story rocket stage off the boat with a crane and set it on a stand, before it is transported to a hangar for inspections.

If it is in good enough conditions, SpaceX hopes to test-fire the booster's nine Merlin engines multiple times and try to launch it for a second time, possibly as soon as June, Musk said.