The private spaceflight company SpaceX did successfully launch an ocean studies satellite called Jason 3 into orbit yesterday (January 17, 2016). It did not succeed, however, in its long-sought goal of bringing the Falcon 9 launch vehicle back to Earth for an upright sea landing.
The rocket made it back to the floating ocean platform yesterday in the Pacific, and it did land upright. But as you can see from the Instagram video below – posted by SpaceX founder Elon Musk – the rocket then tipped and crashed.
Musk said the cause was a landing leg that did not deploy correctly and later said the root cause might have been:
… ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff.
SpaceX was successful in December in landing its rocket upright on land, and it admits sea landings are more difficult. Still, SpaceX said, it wants to have the options for both at-sea and on-land landings.
Alan Boyle at GeekWire – who covered the launch and landing thoroughly – said that yesterday’s sea landing was also because SpaceX wasn’t able to obtain regulatory approval for an on-land touchdown in California.
Boyle said SpaceX eventually hopes to get clearance to use what it calls “Landing Zone 2” on the U.S. West Coast.
SpaceX and other private spaceflight companies want the capability of bringing their rockets back for upright landings to reduce the cost of space travel.
Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time! Won't be last RUD, but am optimistic about upcoming ship landing. pic.twitter.com/w007TccANJ
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
Bottom line: SpaceX successfully launched the Jason 3 ocean studies satellite on January 17, 2016. Meanwhile, its attempt to bring back the launch vehicle – a Falcon 9 rocket – and land it upright at sea did not succeed.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.