Private space exploration company SpaceX has had mixed results with its latest attempt to send satellites and cargo into space aboard renewable rockets. A Falcon 9 successfully delivered 11 satellites into orbit, including JASON-3, which will help monitor evidence of climate change. However the unmanned rocket then failed in an attempt to land on a floating base in the Pacific, reportedly "breaking a leg" on impact.
The failed landing will have been a disappointment for SpaceX founder, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, after another rocket successfully landed on a base on solid ground in December (2015). That astonishing feat appeared to pave the way for an expansion of private involvement in the space programme, as reusable rockets could cut the cost of each mission one hundredfold, potentially paving the way for manned missions to Mars.
Speaking after the successful landing of a 23-storey rocket at Cape Canaveral on 21 December Musk said: "I think it really quite dramatically improves my confidence that a city on Mars is possible. That's what all this is about."
SpaceX favours landing on solid earth as the costs of recovering the rocket are lower, but is keen to perfect ocean landings as this would enable the recovery of rockets lacking enough fuel to reach land. SpaceX has a contract with Nasa to supply the International Space Station - currently hosting Tim Peake - with supplies as well as sending satellites into orbit. In total the company has over 60 future missions scheduled, as part of a contract worth US$8bn (£5.6bn).
"Close, but no cigar," Musk tweeted after an earlier attempt to land aboard a floating landing pad failed last year. It looks like the celebratory cigar lit following the successful landing in December may now have to be put back in the box - for now.
At least Musk had some sympathy - from rival space explorer Jeff "Amazon" Bezos, whose "New Shepard" booster rocket managed to land successfully recently. Bezos Tweeted: "Impressive launch and @SpaceX will soon make Falcon 9 landings routine – so good for space! Kudos SpaceX!"