The Wall Street Journal: SpaceX successfully launches two of its own prototype satellites

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SpaceX successfully launched its 18th consecutive commercial payload into orbit on Thursday, but this time two of the company’s prototype communications satellites went along for the ride.

And minutes after blastoff, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the formal name of billionaire Elon Musk’s company, came close to pulling off another engineering coup: using a specially outfitted boat to “catch” part of the rocket’s returning nose cone.

In a message on Twitter, Musk said that using a larger parachute in the future to slow the descent should allow SpaceX to land the nose cone directly in the boat’s netting, which he called a giant-size version of a baseball “catcher’s mitt.”

The main mission, blasting a Spanish radar-imaging satellite into a 320-mile high orbit, went off without a hitch as the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 6:17 a.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast. Bright orange exhaust plumes produced a light show in the dawn sky, before the nine main engines shut off as planned, about 2½ minutes into the flight.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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