A private space company said it has landed a rocket upright and gently enough to be used again, a milestone in commercial aeronautics.
The achievement produced “the rarest of beasts: a used rocket”, Jeff Bezos, founder of the company Blue Origin, said in a statement. He is the chief executive of Amazon.
Another private company, SpaceX, has tried to land boosters upright on a barge in the ocean but so far has failed.
Reusing rockets, rather than discarding them, would be a big step towards making space flight less expensive.
Blue Origin said the unmanned flight took place on Monday morning at its site in Van Horn in west Texas. The company, based in Kent, Washington, did not invite reporters to attend.
Its first test flight happened in April.
Its New Shepard vehicle consists of a capsule that is designed to take people into space for suborbital flights one day, and a booster.
In Monday’s flight, the booster soared about 62 miles high and released the capsule, which parachuted to the ground.
After the separation, the booster began falling back to Earth. It slowed its descent by firing its engine, starting at about 4,900ft above ground.
It was descending at just 4.4mph when it touched down at the launch site, still standing up, the company said.
“It’s really a major step forward towards reusability,” John M Logsdon, professor emeritus at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, said.
Although Nasa space shuttles were also reusable after returning to Earth safely, they were far more expensive than rockets, he noted.
“The goal here is low-cost reusability,” Mr Logsdon said.