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SpaceX lands its Falcon 9 rocket booster hard, but on target

Jason 3 sent into orbit successfully, but barge landing went rougher.


Rae Votta


Posted on Jan 17, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 8:50 am CDT

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying ocean-monitoring satellite Jason-3 today. The space company’s attempt to land the Falcon 9 on a drone on a barge in the Pacific Ocean, however, wasn’t quite as successful.

According a SpaceX, the rocket stage came down on target, but a landing leg failed to latch and the rocket toppled over. (See update below.)

A livestream feed of the landing cut out moments before the ship touched down, but SpaceX eventually confirmed its status and promised more photos from remote cameras.

The autonomous barge was in choppy water with waves as high as 15 feet, which may have made the landing more difficult. SpaceX has been experimenting with recovering rocket boosters, which could significantly reduce the cost of future space launches. 

The landing follows SpaceX’s successful landing attempt last month of a Falcon 9 booster at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Falcon 9 made touchdown on land, and SpaceX had hoped to recreate that smooth landing on a barge.

Update 3:38pm CT: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk clarified on Twitter that the rocket’s landing leg did not break on impact, as originally reported by the company. The leg “lockout failed to latch,” which resulted in the rocket booster tipping over. 

Update 10:31am CT, Jan. 18: Photos and video of the landing have now been released.

Photo via SpaceX

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*First Published: Jan 17, 2016, 5:35 am CST