The booster put on a spectacular show as it descended tail first toward Landing Zone 4 just a few hundred yards from the rocket's launch stand, deploying four legs and firing up one of its nine Merlin engines, seemingly at the last moment, to slow down for touchdown in a cloud of fiery exhaust.
The twilight launch created a spectacular sight in the night sky for spectators in Southern California, who took to Twitter to share their incredible photos.
SpaceX first started leasing the California landing space from the Air Force in 2015 but only recently received an approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to make a return landing of this sort, Wired reports. After launch, the first-stage booster rocket will attempt to land at the Air Force base for the first time.
The rocket being used in Sunday's mission was previously employed in a June launch.
Land landings aren't threatened by storms like ocean landings are, and they also allow SpaceX to refurbish the boosters faster, as they don't need to be recovered from sea.
The upgraded Block 5 Falcon 9 is part of SpaceX's plan for vastly cheaper and more efficient spaceflight.
If anything goes wrong during the launch and landing, there is a risk of explosion.
The primary goal of the flight was to boost Argentina's SAOCOM 1A satellite into an orbit around Earth's poles, the first of two orbital radar stations capable of "seeing" through clouds and at night to measure soil moisture, a key indicator of crop yields, droughts and floods.
Viewers took to social media to speculate on the rocket, which was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The mission will also help planners and emergency-management officials keep tabs on wildfires, floods and other disasters. Its name is short for Satelite Argentino de Observacion Con Microondas.