Another SpaceX launch. Another attempted SpaceX rocket landing. Everyone was hoping for the best after last month’s picture perfect landing on land. Elon Musk and crew opted for another drone ship landing in the ocean, but it failed again. Here’s the video.

A video posted by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Man, so close! What went wrong? Musk speculates it could have been ice buildup from heavy fog at lift off that caused the lockout collet to not latch on one of the four legs. That caused the first stage to slowly tip over.

As for SpaceX’s primary mission? The Jason-3 satellite soared into the air above California yesterday morning. A few minutes after separating from the rocket’s second stage, it successfully deployed its twin sets of solar arrays. Over the next six months, Jason-3 will be meticulously checked out by engineers and ground controllers before beginning full science operations. Then, it will take precise height measurements of the 95% of the world’s oceans (Ice-free parts) every 10 days.

“As human-caused global warming drives sea levels higher and higher, we are literally reshaping the surface of our planet,” said Josh Willis, a NASA project scientist for Jason-3. “These missions tell us how much and how fast.”

An upgraded Falcon 9 rocket

Yesterday’s mission was the final launch and landing attempt using the Falcon 9 v1.1. An upgraded Falcon 9 rocket will be used for every mission going forward. We already saw the first launch of the upgraded rocket. Remember December’s epic landing? That was with the upgraded Falcon 9 rocket.

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The latest version of the rocket is slightly taller than v1.1. Upgrades include new Merlin 1D engines, a new payload fairing and slightly longer fuel tanks. But one of the biggest upgrades could help SpaceX’s next landing attempt. Stronger legs. This could give SpaceX a little more leeway when attempting landings on drone ships in future launches.

The longer fuel tanks are also vital for drone ship landings. Larger fuel tanks give the first stage rocket the extra fuel it needs to attempt landings at sea.

Why can’t SpaceX just bring the rocket back to land?

SpaceX landing in December

SpaceX landing rocket in December.

It worked great last time, why not do it all the time? SpaceX wasn’t able to get environmental approval for a ground landing in time.

Plus, not every mission will be able to return to land.

It’s all about speed. Bringing back the first stage during high-velocity missions just isn’t feasible.

Not landing the rocket is a bummer, but it’s great to see SpaceX have another successful mission. The Jason-3 is green across the board and is expected to take measurements of the world’s oceans for the next five years. Jason-CS will assist Jason-3 when it goes up in 2018.

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SpaceX’s next launch is less than one month away. The improved Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch on February 6th from Cape Canaveral.

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