SpaceX ocean landing goes awry

  • 18/01/2016
The 22-story tall rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base (Reuters)
The 22-story tall rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base (Reuters)

By Gene Blevins

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has blasted off from California to put a climate-monitoring satellite into orbit, then turned around and botched an attempted landing on a platform at sea.

The first stage of the rocket made it back to the platform, which was floating in the Pacific Ocean, but it apparently landed too hard and broke one of its landing legs, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

The 22-story tall rocket lifted off through thick fog from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast at 10.42am local time, a NASA TV broadcast showed.

A successful ocean landing would have marked a second milestone for SpaceX a month after it nailed a spaceflight first with a successful ground landing in Florida, a key step in Musk's quest to develop a cheap, reusable rocket.

The company's two previous ocean-landing attempts in 2015 were also unsuccessful. Being able to land at sea would give the company flexibility to recover rockets used on more demanding missions, such as launching heavy satellites, when boosters do not have enough fuel left to reach land.

However, Sunday's SpaceX launch succeeded in sending the US- and European-owned Jason-3 satellite on its way to orbit.

The 550 kg Jason-3 satellite is the fourth in a series of ocean-monitoring satellites, which are now taking centre stage in monitoring Earth's climate.