Blastoff took place on time at 3:46 p.m. ET.
This year has been extremely busy for SpaceX, to say the least - aside from the continuous launches and the introduction of the reusable Falcon 9, the company has also been working hard on finishing up the Dragon spacecraft that will be sending NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Es'hail-1, Qatar's earlier satellite, was deployed in August 2013 in partnership with Eutelsat, a French telecommunications operator.
Two minutes and 35 seconds after liftoff, the first stage separated and dropped away, followed a few seconds later by ignition of the second stage's single engine. The rocket reusability is a breakthrough needed to reduce the cost of access to space and enable people to live on other planets, according to SpaceX.
An artist's impression of the Es'hail 2 communications satellite in orbit.
SpaceX rocket landings have become relatively routine, with 30 successful recoveries going into Thursday's flight, 18 on droneships and 12 on land. Es'hail 2 features high-speed Ku- and Ka-band communications services. The rocket fired up three of its engines to slow down for entry into the thick lower atmosphere, using titanium "grid fins" at the top of the rocket for steering and attitude control.
The landing was the second for this particular first stage, which also helped launch the Telstar 19 Vantage communications satellite on July 22. Television views provided by SpaceX showed the stage smoothly descending to touchdown about eight minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff.
SpaceX has matched last year's total for successful launches, giving Elon Musk's rocket company weeks to spare to set a new annual record for missions. The rocket experienced some serious problems along the way, but the company's number of successful launches has nearly made them boring over the past few years.
The launch was one of two USA launches that were to take place Thursday, until the morning launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia was pushed back a day because of the likelihood of poor weather.