SpaceX Launches Satellite, Fails Rocket Landing Off California Coast

Southern California-based SpaceX successfully launched a weather satellite into space Sunday, but the rocket was damaged after a failed attempt by controllers to land the missile on a barge 200 miles off the California coast, officials said.

The Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Los Angeles, transporting the Jason-3 satellite into orbit at 10:42 a.m.

The two-stage rocket made a hard landing on an ocean barge and broke a support leg. The Falcon 9 was not upright after reaching the 300-by-170 foot landing pad west of San Diego on Sunday morning, SpaceX announcers said.

SpaceX has tried landing rockets upright on a barge before but those attempts failed when the rockets tipped into the ocean.

Sunday's attempt comes only one month after making history by landing a booster rocket upright back on Earth after delivering a satellite into orbit.

The Dec. 21 launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral delivered 11 ORBCOMM communications satellites into orbit. After delivering the vehicle carrying the satellites into orbit, the rocket was maneuvered back to Earth, and it successfully landed on a pad back at Cape Canaveral.

The history-making landing was a major cost-saving step forward for space operations, proving that highly expensive rockets can be recovered and reused instead of merely being lost into the ocean.

Sunday's failed landing is a blow to the Hawthorne-based company's plan to reduce launch costs by reusing rockets rather than having them fall into the ocean.

Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the mission of Jason-3 is to continue an unbroken record of more than two decades of sea level measurements from orbit.

The project is managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, working in conjunction with the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. It was built by Thales Alenia of France.

"Jason-3 will maintain the ability to monitor and precisely measure global sea surface heights, monitor the intensification of tropical cyclones and support seasonal and coastal forecasts,'' according to JPL."

Data from Jason-3 will support scientific, commercial and practical applications related to ocean circulation and climate change.

Additionally, Jason-3 data will be applied to fisheries management, marine industries and research into human impacts on the world's oceans.''

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.

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