SpaceX botches rocket landing on California barge

A weather satellite was successfully launched into space atop rocket booster built by Hawthorne-based SpaceX Sunday, but officials said the first stage rocket was damaged as controllers attempted to land it on a barge 200 miles off the California coast.

The rocket booster landed on target on a barge in the Pacific Ocean, but snapped a support leg as it touched down, SpaceX officials said.

But a company official said the SpaceX video feed that the landing of the booster was secondary to the successful launch of the weather satellite, Jason 3, which was successully hefted into a low Earth orbit.

"So even if it ended in a big beautiful burst of flame, this was a success,'' she said.

Applause rang out at SpaceX mission control as the satellite's second stage fired successfully over Madagascar, over the Indian Ocean, at about 11:35 a.m.

But the news was not quite so good 200 miles south of the launch pad near Santa Barbara, where the first stage of the rocket tried to land erect on a floating platform, whimsically called "Just Read The Directions.''

"Unfortunately, we are not standing up right on the droneship at the moment,'' said SpaceX lead mechanical design engineer John Federspiel. The rocket apparently set down hard and broke a landing leg, the company said on its Twitter feed.

SpaceX had pulled off a successful vertical landing of a rocket in Florida last December, and the company is banking on being able to recycle the first stage boosters as it vies for NASA contracts to supply rocket launching service.

Near Pasadena, Jet Propulsion Lab scientists had established radio and video contact with Jason 3, the new weather satellite, and said its twin solar arrays unfolded correctly. Data showed it to be healthy.

The joint U.S.-European weather satellite will precisely measure ocean levels as they creep upward, a result of global warming. National Weather Service officials this winter warned that they had measured a one foot increase in the highest high tide levels along the Southern California coast.

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