SpaceX notched up another mission success after the launch of Falcon 9R (V1.1R) operated by SpaceX. Its main mission was to place the Franco-US Oceanography satellite, Jason-3, into a relatively highly inclined low Earth orbit. That mission was successfully accomplished. The lift-off took place 1842 GMT on 17 January 2016 from the Vandenberg launch site in California, USA. It achieved an orbit of 1,320 x 1,295 km at 66 degrees relative to the equator.
Not everything went well, however. The secondary mission to try to land the rocket’s reusable first stage on a barge down range in the Pacific Ocean failed literally on the last leg. It was yet another explosive event as the rocket toppled over immediately after landing. The cause of the tumble was a leg malfunction, with the collet lock on leg No 3 not latching properly.
Thus, while SpaceX has previously succeeded in landing such a reusable rocket stage on land, this was the third full failure at sea.
Comment by David Todd: This landing failure must have been especially irritating for SpaceX as the “hard work” had been done. Nevertheless, the firm’s entrepreneurial founder and chief technical officer, Elon Musk, was putting a brave face on it on Twitter:
“Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time! Won’t be last RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly), but am optimistic about upcoming ship landing.”