A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida and thrust a communications satellite into orbit on Friday, but the launch vehicle's reusable main-stage booster was destroyed when it failed to land itself on an ocean platform, the company said.

It marked the fourth botched at-sea return landing attempt for Elon Musk's privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, though a Falcon main-stage rocket did achieve a successful ground-based touchdown after soaring back to Earth from a less demanding launch in December.

Source: b'SpaceX Falcon 9'

The latest try occurred after four SpaceX launch delays stretching back to Februray 24. On Friday, the 23-story-tall Falcon 9 bolted off its seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as scheduled at 6:35 p.m. (EST/2335 GMT). Half-hour later it completed the chief goal of its mission, putting the Boeing-built satellite, owned by Luxembourg-based SES SA, into orbit more than 25,000 miles (40,600 km) above Earth.

On its way up, the rocket’s first-stage booster separated as planned, turned around and headed toward a platform floating about 400 miles (645 km) off Florida’s east coast. The rocket found its target, but its velocity proved too great to allow for a safe landing on the drone barge.

Source: b'Representational image'

“Rocket landed hard,” Musk, the founder and chief executive officer of SpaceX, said in a Twitter message more than an hour after blastoff. “Didn’t expect this one to work ... but next flight has a good chance.”

The ability to safely and reliably return the rocket's main stage to a landing pad at sea has been a key hurdle in Musk's quest to develop a relatively cheap, reusable launch vehicle. The rocket flying on Friday faced a particularly challenging mission to deliver the 12,613-pound (5,721 kg) satellite into an orbit more than 100 times higher than where the International Space Station flies.

Source: b'Representational image'

The speed required to achieve that feat meant the rocket was going too fast to even attempt a ground landing. SpaceX came close to nailing an ocean touchdown in January after blasting off from California to deliver a climate-monitoring satellite into orbit. The returning main-stage rocket settled itself on a platform in the Pacific Ocean, but a stabilizing landing leg failed to latch, causing the booster to keel over and explode.

SpaceX’s next mission, a cargo-delivery run to the space station for NASA, is targeted for launch in late March or early April. The launch firm has contracts worth more than $10 billion from commercial companies, NASA and other agencies.

All images sourced from Reuters