US space company SpaceX has managed to successfully land an unmanned rocket upright after a launch for the first time in history.

The California firm, owned by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched their Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 21 December. Blasting off with a payload of communications satellites, the reusable main-stage booster then turned around and soared back down to the ground to complete an historic first vertical landing.

In a video released of the launch, employees can be heard erupting in jubilation as they watched a live stream of the 156ft white booster slowly descend to Earth.

The successful landing could pave the way for the use of reusable rockets in future and will give a huge boost to privately-owned space exploration companies such as SpaceX.

Musk has previously said that the ability to return rockets to Earth so they can be refurbished and reflown would dramatically reduce his company's operational costs in the nascent commercial space travel industry.

The successful launch and landing was the first SpaceX flight since a June accident destroyed a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station.

Rival company Blue Origin, a space start-up founded by Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, nailed a similar return rocket landing test last month, but the SpaceX feat was achieved during an actual commercial launch.