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EARTH OBSERVATION
SpaceX launches US-French oceans satellite
by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (AFP) Jan 17, 2016


SpaceX on Sunday launched a $180 million satellite to study sea level rise, and will make a fourth try at landing its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform.

"And liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket with Jason-3, continuing the mission for global insight into ocean sea surface height and its effects on our planet," said NASA commentator George Diller.

The satellite, made by France and the United States, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, at 10:42 am (1842 GMT).

It aims to offer a more precise look at how global warming and sea level rise affect wind speeds and currents as close as one kilometer (0.6 miles) from shore, whereas past satellites were limited to about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the coast.

The technology will monitor global sea surface heights, tropical cyclones and help support seasonal and coastal forecasts.

During a five-year mission, its data will also be used to aid fisheries management and research into human impacts on the world's oceans.

The satellite is the fruit of a four-way partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US space agency NASA, the French space agency CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

- Landing bid -

After the rocket sent the satellite on its way, the first stage of the Falcon 9 was to power back toward Earth and set itself down on a barge, or droneship, as SpaceX calls the floating platform.

"Standing by for status of stage one," SpaceX said on Twitter, after it lost contact with the live video link of the droneship.

The attempt is the latest in a series of trial runs as SpaceX attempts to make rocket parts reusable, lowering the cost of spaceflight and making it more sustainable and accessible.

Currently, expensive rocket components are jettisoned into the ocean after launch, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.

The California-based company headed by Internet entrpreneur Elon Musk managed to land the Falcon 9's first stage -- the long, towering portion of rocket -- on land at Cape Canaveral last month.

But an ocean landing has proven elusive, with three prior attempts ending in failure.

According to Hans Koenigsmann, president of mission assurance at SpaceX, the company decided to try an ocean landing because it did not have the "environmental approval" to attempt a landing on solid ground in the area, though it hopes to in the future.

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