SpaceX Launching NASA Jason-3 Ocean Surveillance Satellite Jan. 17; with Barge Rocket Landing – Watch Live

The joint NASA-European ocean surveillance satellite named Jason-3 is poised for blastoff from SpaceX’s California launch pad on Sunday, Jan. 17 – followed immediately by another Falcon 9 rocket recovery landing on a barge at sea.

The weather forecast is outstanding! And you can watch all the excitement live!

The primary goal is to deliver Jason-3 to low Earth orbit, where it will gather global measurements of ocean topography, or wave heights, using radar altimitry. These data provide scientists with essential information about global and regional changes in the Earth’s seas such as tracking sea level rise that threatens the resilience of coastal communities and the health of our environment.

“Jason-3 is gathering environmental intelligence from the world’s oceans.”

To top that off, SpaceX plans to move forward with their ambitious spaceflight agenda on rocket reuse. So the secondary mission goal is attempting a 2nd rocket recovery landing of the firms Falcon 9 booster in barely 4 weeks time – this time on an ocean going barge.

“Everything is in great shape and the vehicle is really ready to go,” SpaceX Chief Engineer Hans Koenigsmann said at prelaunch media briefing on Friday.

The weather prognosis for launch is currently 100 Percent ‘GO’ – and that’s as good as it gets!

Liftoff of the two stage 224 foot tall SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying Jason-3 to Earth orbit is now less than a day away.

Launch is scheduled for the opening of the 30-second launch window on Sunday morning, Jan. 17 at 10:42:18 a.m. PST (1:42:18 EST) from Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC 4) on Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California.

You can watch the dramatic events unfold via a live NASA TV webcast available at:

NASA Countdown updates begin at 8 a.m. PST, 11 a.m. EST.

SpaceX will also webcast the launch live at:

Jason-3 launch. Credit: NASA

The backup launch window for a second attempt, if needed, is on Monday, January 18 at 10:31:04 a.m. PST. Monday’s weather prognosis drops to only 70 Percent ‘GO’ according to Air Force meteorologists.

The Falcon 9 rocket with Jason-3 encapsulated in the nose cone was rolled out horizontally from a processing hangar at Vandenberg AFB to the SLC 4 launch pad on Friday, Jan. 15 after it passed the Launch Readiness Review with no outstanding issues. It was raised into the vertical position on the launch pad at 11:11 a.m. PST today, Saturday, Jan. 16.

SpaceX Falcon 9 erected at Vandenberg AFB launch pad in California in advance of Jason-3 launch for NASA on Jan. 17, 2016. Credit: SpaceX

Jason-3 is the fourth mission in a U.S.-European series of satellite missions that measure the wave heights of the world’s ocean surfaces. The mission continues over 23 years of sea level measurements gathered by the prior satellites including Jason 1 and 2 and TOPEX/Poseidon begun in 1992.

The radar altimeter measurements help infer heat content in the oceans.

“These measurements provide scientists with critical information about circulation patterns in the ocean and about both global and regional changes in sea level and the climate implications of a warming world,” say NASA officials.

The data will also be useful in hurricane intensity forecasting, and surface wave, tide and current forecasting for commercial shipping, and scientific research on marine mammals and coral reefs as well as El Nino forecasting.

The Jason-3 mission is scheduled for launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 17, 2016 at approximately 10:42:18 a.m. PST from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Credit: NASA

Jason-3 was built by Thales Alenia of France. It will measure the topography of the ocean surface for a four-agency international partnership consisting of NOAA, NASA, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), France’s space agency, and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (Eumetsat).

The launch timeline is as follows:

About three minutes after launch and as the second-stage is still firing, the payload fairing will be jettisoned exposing Jason-3 to space. The first cutoff of the second-stage engine will take place nine minutes after liftoff.

After coasting in an intermediate orbit for about another 46 minutes, the second-stage engine will reignite a second time some 55 minutes after blastoff for a short burn to insert Jason-3 in the desired orbit.

Jason-3 will separate from the second stage about 56 minutes after liftoff. Two minutes later it will start the deployment of its power generating pair of solar arrays.

The $180 million mission is expected to operate for at least five years.

Graphic outlines SpaceX plan to attempt precision landing of Falcon 9 first stage on oceangoing autonomous spaceport drone ship. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is now aiming to chalk up two successful rocket launches and landings in a row over the past month – if all goes well with Sunday’s Falcon 9 liftoff.

The Falcon 9 first stage will be guided to a soft landing on the barge named “Just Read The Instructions,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president for mission assurance during a pre-launch media briefing on Jan. 15.

The 156 foot tall Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with four landing legs and four grid fins to enable the propulsive landing atop the barge once the first stage separates and relights a Merlin 1D engine.

Two prior SpaceX attempts at a precision landing on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) barge came very close with pinpoint approaches to the oceangoing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean. But the rocket tipped somewhat sideways in the final moments and was destroyed in a hard landing.

Falcon 9 first stage attempts soft landing on droneship barge in the Atlantic Ocean in April 2015. Credit: SpaceX

The mission also marks the final launch of the v1.1 version of the SpaceX Falcon 9, first flown in Sept 2013. That flight was also the last time SpaceX launched a rocket from their California launch pad.

Overall this is the 21st Falcon 9 flight.

Henceforth, the Falcon 9 will launch in the newly upgraded ‘Full Thrust’ version featuring more powerful first stage Merlin 1D engines. The first ‘Full Thrust’ Falcon 9 was used during the historic rocket recovery launch on Dec. 21, 2015.

Koenigsmann also confirmed that SpaceX plans another three or four Falcon 9 launches from Vandenberg AFB throughout this year.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Watch this NASA video describing the Jason-3 mission and objectives:

Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC,, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

View Comments

  • As of 12:30 pm PST, SpaceX reported That Jason-3 achieved its nominal orbit after the success of the 2nd burn of the Falcon-9 second stage.
    According to one of its tweets, the First stage "hard landed" on the floating barge, breaking a landing leg in the process.
    No word yet on the overall condition of the booster yet.

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