SpaceX launches ocean-monitoring satellite

US private spacecraft company SpaceX launched on Sunday morning the Jason-3 ocean-measuring satellite, but failed in its attempt to land the spent first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a ship in the Ocean.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shot into the fog right on time at 10: 42 a.m. PST (1842 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California, sending the Jason-3 ocean-monitoring satellite into orbit, Xinhua reported.

The flight mission features the 180-million-US dollar Jason-3 satellite, a newest member in a series of Earth-observing satellites designed to provide worldwide observations of global sea levels.

The US space agency NASA then confirmed the Jason-3 satellite “ready for science operations! Solar arrays deployed and power positive.”

The international mission Jason-3, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) partnering with the US space agency NASA, CNES (the French Space Agency) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, will continue to monitor and precisely measure global sea surface heights, observe the intensification of tropical cyclones and support seasonal and coastal forecasts.

Jason-3 data will also benefit fishery management, marine industries and research into human impacts in the world’s oceans. The mission is planned to last at least five years.

For many, it was what happened after the launch that’s most important. Shortly after liftoff, SpaceX tried to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on a floating drone ship in the ocean, with a landing zone of 150 feet (45.7 meters) by 250 feet (76.2 meters).

But about 25 minutes after the rocket lifted off, SpaceX tweeted, “First stage on target at droneship but looks like hard landing; broke landing leg…Second stage re-ignition successful. Jason-3 satellite has been deployed.”

“After further data review, stage landed softly but leg 3 didn’t lockout. Was within 1.3 meters of droneship center,” SpaceX confirmed later.

Kevin Meissner, who used to work for SpaceX, told Xinhua, “the sea landing does not require much fuel because you do not need to turn around and fly all the way back to the land.”

The offshore landing attempt follows on the heels of SpaceX’s successful Falcon 9 rocket landing on a land-based pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 21, which was considered an important milestone in the space industry and a big step toward making rockets reusable.