SpaceX will try, try again to land a rocket at sea

Image: Falcon 9 first stage landing attempt
A Falcon 9 booster descends toward a ship during SpaceX’s April landing try in the Atlantic. The attempt was unsuccessful, but SpaceX plans to try again in the Pacific on Jan. 17. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is planning something completely different for its next rocket-landing trick: After launching the U.S.-European Jason 3 satellite on a Falcon 9, it’ll have the first-stage booster fly itself back and try to touch down on a drone ship off California’s coast.

Well, maybe it’s not completely different: The attempt, scheduled for Jan. 17, follows up on last month’s spectacularly successful first-stage landing in Cape Canaveral, Fla. But this could be the first successful at-sea retro rocket landing in history, and the first West Coast rocket recovery.

Landing the booster would be considered a bonus rather than a requirement for mission success. The main objective is to send Jason 3 into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, adding it to a series of sea-observing satellites.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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