On May 5, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a communication satellite into space. A few minutes later, the automated first stage booster guided itself back to Earth, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic.
This test is a very big deal. The entire purpose of bringing the first stage booster back is to reuse it, saving money. Instead of building a new one at a cost of $60 million, it might only cost a few million to reuse one previously flown.
The test was a critical component of that. As you can see, the rocket was held down during the firing to test out how it performed. It apparently went well, but I’m waiting to hear about specifics.
The plan is to fly a mission using a previously flown booster for the first time sometime later this year. SpaceX has plans to reuse a Dragon capsule that was previously used as well; up until now every one flown was new. On top of all that, the first flight of the Falcon Heavy may be later this year as well.
SpaceX has been having quite a year, with several launches so far and the announcement of plans to send an uncrewed Dragon capsule to Mars starting in 2018. Between their progress and that of Blue Origin, things are looking up for commercial spaceflight.