Scope Diagram Astrocamera.Net - Astrophotography by Dave Kodama  

Jason 3 / SpaceX
Rocket Launch

The Jason 3 satellite was launched successfully on a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle on 17 January 2016. This was the second SpaceX launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The satellite package is primarily aimed at very accurate determination of the ocean height changes via radar altimetry over a long term, following up observations started by TOPEX/Poseidon, and Jason 1 and 2. The orbit is a polar orbit (66° inclination), allowing full coverage of all of the Earth's oceans in 10 days. This is a massive multi-agency coordinated effort including NASA, NOAA, JPL, EUMETSAT (European Meteorological Satellite Organization), and CNES (French National Space Agency). For the launch of the satellite, SpaceX and the USAF were also involved.

The launch was from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4), where SpaceX has leased the use of the east pad for launches, and the west pad for future booster return landings. In the panoramic shot above, the rocket stands on the east pad at right, while a temporary building stands on the west pad on the left. For this particular launch, a barge landing at sea was planned.

Views of the SpaceX launch pad area as seen on approach to the launch complex.

Above are views of the SpaceX launch pad from the remote camera location.
All of the cameras located here are unmanned at launch time.

Though ironically scheduled for launch during the exceptionally rainy El Niño winter season, the launch window was lucky enough to end up between waves of storms. One day prior to launch, the weather looked very promising for a good view of the launch. The official meteorological report was a 0% chance of a weather-related delay for the launch.

Unfortunately, what's OK for a launch is not necessarily good for viewing the launch. The morning of the launch brought the all-too-common coastal fog over the base, so all we got was an impressive roar, a whiff of kerosene, and only a few meager glimpses of the rocket flame when the rocket was very far down the launch track.

The satellite was successfully placed into orbit, but the attempted barge recovery of the first stage ended up unsuccessfully when one of the landing struts failed to lock into place, despite apparently successfully actually touching down on the barge. This failure was possibly due to the freezing of condensation in the mechanism.

Better luck to us all next time!