An unmanned U.S. rocket placed a $180 million climate-monitoring satellite into orbit Sunday, but then failed in an attempt to return to a platform floating in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket blasted off Sunday morning from a U.S. airbase in southern California, with a satellite designed to measure how global warming and sea level rise impacts coastal wind speeds and currents.
A short while later, officials from Musk’s California-based Space Exploration Technologies said on Twitter that the first stage of the 22-story rocket appears to have broken a landing leg while touching down on the platform 320 kilometers off the California coast. No further details were immediately released.
The company had warned earlier Sunday that the unmanned platform was experiencing high waves, and said the live video feed cut out as the rocket stage approached the platform.
The mishap marks the third such landing failure at sea since the privately funded company began space launches in 2008.
In December, SpaceX landed a similar rocket on land near Cape Canaveral, Florida, marking the first time a rocket launched into orbit successfully made a controlled landing on earth.
SpaceX does not yet have U.S. government’s permission to land a rocket at the Vandenberg Air Force Base from where it took off.
SpaceX is one of several companies that contracted with the U.S. space agency NASA to ferry supplies, and eventually astronauts, to the International Space Station. One such SpaceX rocket loaded with supplies exploded on an East coast launch pad in 2015.