The first stage of a SpaceX rocket that delivered a US-European ocean-monitoring satellite into orbit Sunday made a hard landing on a floating barge in the Pacific and broke a support leg. SpaceX announcers say the Falcon 9 was not upright after reaching the 300-by-170 foot landing pad in choppy seas about 200 miles west of San Diego. The rocket launched as planned at 10:42am from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Los Angeles, sending its second stage and a Jason-3 satellite into orbit. The failed landing is a setback for the California-based company's plan to reduce launch costs by reusing rockets rather than having them fall into the ocean.
Two previous attempts to land a rocket on a barge in the Atlantic failed, but last month SpaceX succeeded in returning a rocket to a vertical landing at Cape Canaveral, Fla., after putting a cluster of satellites into orbit. The mission of the satellite is to continue an unbroken record of more than two decades of sea level measurements from orbit. As the current El Nino in the eastern Pacific has strengthened, Jason-3 has been stuck on the ground. Jason-3's launch was originally scheduled for August 2015 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. However, the launch was postponed after a different Falcon 9 rocket failed during a supply mission to the International Space Station in June. (Read more SpaceX stories.)