After successfully landing the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on solid ground Dec. 21, 2015, SpaceX will attempt to land a returning rocket on a droneship in the Pacific Ocean. The SpaceX ocean landing attempt will take place Sunday after the company launches NASA's Jason-3 space weather satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Unlike last year's successful ground landing, SpaceX will be using an older Falcon 9 rocket configuration for the Jason-3 launch.
Elon Musk announced SpaceX's intentions to land the Falcon 9 rocket after the completion of a static fire in preparation for the launch on Twitter Monday. The drill included a countdown and ignition of the Falcon 9's Merlin 1D engines. Sunday's launch will be the final one for the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket configuration, according to Spaceflight Now. SpaceX previously attempted an ocean landing using this configuration.
Aiming to launch this weekend and (hopefully) land on our droneship. Ship landings needed for high velocity missions https://t.co/n6j0mExAqM
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 12, 2016
The first ocean landing attempt took place in January 2015 followed by another attempt in April 2015. Both attempts reached their target but exploded on the droneship. "The first one hit really hard and exploded immediately on impact. The second one did land, but slightly too hard. Two of the legs broke their stops on landing, so it tipped over and exploded," Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, said in a statement.
The barge — measuring 150 feet by 250 feet — SpaceX will use is called "Just Read the Instructions."
SpaceX's successful ground landing occurred with a new Falcon 9 rocket configuration capable of carrying heavier payloads to space along with other improvements. SpaceX's rocket landing followed Blue Origin's landing of the New Shepard vehicle. Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, landed New Shepard during a test flight where the spacecraft reached an altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) on Nov. 23, 2015.
The launch window for SpaceX begins at 10:42 a.m. PST (1:42 p.m. EST) Sunday. A backup launch opportunity is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 10:41 a.m. PST (1:41 p.m. EST).
"Jason-3 will continue the ability to monitor and precisely measure global sea surface heights, monitor the intensification of tropical cyclones and support seasonal and coastal forecasts. Jason-3 data also will benefit fisheries management, marine industries and research into human impacts on the world’s oceans," NASA wrote of Jason-3's mission.