SpaceX successfully landed its powerful Falcon 9 rocket in an upright position, a historic first in the company's bid to make rockets as reusable as airplanes.
"The Falcon has landed," a commentator said above the screams and cheers of people gathered at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Video images on SpaceX's webcast showed the first stage of the rocket touching down at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The tall, white portion of the rocket glided back to Earth, its engines burning bright orange against a black night sky.
The first stage of the rocket appeared to settle down firmly and stick the landing.
Video images were soon cut off and the SpaceX live webcast returned to its commentators, who described the successful deployment of the rocket's payload of 11 satellites for ORBCOMM, a global communications company.
"The Falcon first stage landing is confirmed," SpaceX wrote on Twitter.
"All 11 ORBCOMM satellites have been deployed in nominal orbits."
The US space agency NASA also applauded the feat.
"Congratulations @SpaceX on your successful vertical landing of the first stage back on Earth!" NASA said in a tweet.
The company, headed by Internet tycoon Elon Musk, is striving to revolutionize the rocket industry, which currently loses many millions of dollars in jettisoned machinery and sophisticated rocket components after each launch.
Several attempts to land the Falcon 9's first stage on a floating ocean platform have failed -- with the rocket either colliding with the autonomous drone ship or tipping over.
But SpaceX has insisted that each attempt has helped engineers come closer to perfecting the technique.