SpaceX rocket crashes on landing: What went wrong?

The Falcon 9 rocket successfully dropped a satellite into orbit Sunday, but tipped over and exploded into pieces when it tried to land on a floating barge in choppy seas about 200 miles west of San Diego.

Elon Musk/Instagram
Elon Musk released a short video clip on Instagram showing the Falcon 9 rocket tipping over after one of the support legs collapsed.

Though private aerospace company SpaceX successfully launched an ocean-monitoring satellite from California into Earth’s orbit on Sunday, the rocket that carried it exploded into pieces after it landed on a floating barge in choppy seas about 200 miles west of San Diego.

According to company founder and CEO Elon Musk, the lockout collet on one of the rocket's four legs didn't latch, causing it to tip over after landing. He said the "root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff," in an Instagram post accompanying the video of the landing.

The failed landing of the Falcon 9 rocket is a setback for the company, whose mission is to reduce future launch costs by reusing the multi-million dollar rockets instead of having them fall into the ocean as is currently done.

SpaceX’s two previous attempts to land a rocket on a barge in the Atlantic have failed, though last month the company successfully landed a rocket vertically at Cape Canaveral, Fla., after dropping satellites into orbit.

Sunday morning Falcon 9 launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base to deliver the Jason-3 satellite into orbit, about 830 miles above the Earth. The new satellite will  track the rate of global sea-level rise and help more accurately forecast the strength of tropical cyclones that threaten America’s coasts, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"Jason allows us to get the big picture in terms of sea-level change in the years to come," Laury Miller, Jason-3 program scientist, told the Associated Press.

The satellite will help detect the weather-altering El Nino condition and its opposite, La Nina. It will also measure global sea level rise, continuing an unbroken record of more than two decades of sea level measurements from other satellites in orbit. It will also help forecast the strength of hurricanes and other severe weather, and track ocean conditions critical for the shipping industry.

Jason-3 is a project of NOAA, NASA, the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

It will join, and ultimately replace, Jason-2, which has been in orbit since 2008. The program began with the satellite Topex-Poseidon, which operated from 1992 to 2006, and revolutionized our understanding of the role of ocean temperature on climate. Its successor, Jason-1, operated from 2001 to 2013.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.