An employee works on a rocket engine at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne. Courtesy SpaceX
An employee works on a rocket engine at the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne. Courtesy SpaceX

One month after making history by landing a booster rocket upright back on Earth after delivering satellites to orbit, Los Angeles-based SpaceX will make another attempt Sunday to recover a rocket — this time landing it on a barge off the California coast.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be launched Sunday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base, transporting the Jason-3 weather satellite into orbit. The narrow launch window begins at 10:42 a.m. Sunday. If that launch is scrubbed, a backup launch window is set for 10:31 a.m. Monday.

“Aiming to launch this weekend and hopefully land on our droneship,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter this week. “Ship landings needed for high-velocity missions.”

SpaceX has tried landing rockets upright on a barge before, but those attempts failed when the rockets tipped into the ocean.

But the company is still riding high following the Dec. 21 launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, delivering 11 ORBCOMM communications satellites into orbit. After delivering the satellites into orbit, the rocket was maneuvered back to Earth, and it successfully landed on a pad back at Cape Canaveral.

The history-making landing was a major cost-saving step forward for space operations, proving that hugely expensive rockets can be recovered and reused instead of merely being lost into the ocean.

The Jason-3 satellite is a mission led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to continue international efforts to measure the topography of ocean surfaces. The project is managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“Jason-3 will maintain the ability to monitor and precisely measure global sea surface heights, monitor the intensification of tropical cyclones and support seasonal and coastal forecasts,” according to JPL. “Data from Jason-3 will support scientific, commercial and practical applications related to ocean circulation and climate change. Additionally, Jason-3 data will be applied to fisheries management, marine industries and research into human impacts on the world’s oceans.”

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.