SpaceX Launches Satellite, But Fails To Stick Landing Off SoCal Coast
It turns out landing a rocket onto a boat in the middle of the ocean is pretty hard!On Sunday morning, Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launched the Jason-3 satellite into orbit, taking off from Vandenberg Air Force Base just before 10:45 a.m. Jason-3's mission will be to measure sea surface levels.
Second stage re-ignition successful. Jason-3 satellite has been deployed.— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 17, 2016
The primary objective of the mission was a success, but getting the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket back in one piece did not go as well. According to SpaceX, the rocket encountered a hard landing on the drone ship Just Read The Instructions and broke a landing leg. Announcers on SpaceX's live webcast said it did not land upright but did not provide further details. No video from the drone ship, floating off the San Pedro coast, was immediately available, citing signal difficulties, but you can enjoy the dramatic video from a failed launch from just a over a year ago. "Even if it did end in a big beautiful ball of fire, that's OK," said one of the webcast announcers, since the boat was unmanned.
Update [5:25]: Elon Musk tweeted a photo of the fallen rocket on the Just Read The Instructions.
Definitely harder to land on a ship. Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that's also translating & rotating.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
However, that was not what prevented it being good. Touchdown speed was ok, but a leg lockout didn't latch, so it tipped over after landing.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
Last month SpaceX successfully landed a Falcon 9 upright on land at Cape Canaveral. Musk says, however, that sea landings are "needed for high velocity missions." According to the L.A. Times, missions that require higher orbits burn more fuel, this preventing them from returning to the same launch site.
You can watch the entire broadcast of the launch and landing attempt here: