Jason DavisJan 17, 2016

SpaceX Successfully Launches Ocean Satellite but Breaks a Leg on Drone Ship

The Jason-3 ocean monitoring satellite successfully reached orbit today following a late morning launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But SpaceX's third attempt to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship came up short. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said one of the rocket's four deployable landing legs failed to lock in place, causing the rocket to tip over. 

Click here to read our launch preview. Here's a recap of the launch and landing attempt:

The rocket was rolled to the pad on Friday, January 15:

Jason-3 Falcon 9 rollout
Jason-3 Falcon 9 rollout Image: SpaceX

It went vertical on Saturday:

Jason-3 raised into position
Jason-3 raised into position Image: SpaceX
Jason-3 ready for launch
Jason-3 ready for launch Image: NASA / Bill Ingalls

Meanwhile, the drone ship Just Read the Instructions waited in the Pacific Ocean:

Liftoff occured at 1:42 p.m. EST (18:42 UTC). Heavy fog obscured views of the launch:

Jason-3 launch video Video: NASA

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NASA posted a solitary, unobscured ascent photograph captured by Bill Ingalls:

Jason-3 ascent
Jason-3 ascent Image: NASA / Bill Ingalls

After first stage separation, the Just Read the Instructions waited:

Just Read the Instructions waits for Jason-3 stage
Just Read the Instructions waits for Jason-3 stage Image: SpaceX

Live video from the drone ship cut out as the second stage and payload entered a coast phase.

Bad news on the first stage arrived a few minutes later:

But the primary mission of deploying Jason-3 was a success:

SpaceX offered a commentary free version of their webcast. Here it is; spacecraft deployment comes about one hour, 38 minutes into the video:

SpaceX commentary-free webcast Video: SpaceX

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Further analysis revealed the first stage was right on target. SpaceX appears to have mastered the accuracy portion of their drone ship landings; they just need to perfect the touchdown: 

Elon Musk tweeted the aftermath of the rocket's Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly, or RUD:

He went on to re-iterate a few details about land versus drone ship recovery scenarios: