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MIAMI - The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that exploded into a fiery ball just after landing at sea off California on Sunday had descended with pinpoint accuracy onto an ocean barge before a landing leg buckled, causing the booster to tip over, a landing video showed.
Heavy fog at the rocket’s launch site in California may have caused condensation to collect in the latching mechanism and then ice it over, said technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, owner and chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX.
SpaceX is seeking to develop a cheap, reusable rocket and a successful ocean landing would have marked a second milestone for the company, a month after it nailed a spaceflight first with a successful ground landing in Florida.
Musk posted the landing video on Instagram late on Sunday. The Falcon 9 blasted off earlier in the day from Vandenberg Air Force Base to put the U.S- and European-owned Jason 3 climate-monitoring satellite into orbit.
The feat of having made the landing on the tiny platform won accolades from fellow tech entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, the Amazon.com Inc chief executive whose Blue Origin space company is pursuing similar technology.
"SpaceX will soon make Falcon 9 landings routine," Bezos posted on Twitter. "Kudos SpaceX!"
Blue Origin landed a suborbital rocket during a November 2015 test flight.
SpaceX’s landing attempt on Sunday was the third time the privately owned firm had tried to recover a rocket on an ocean platform.
"At least the pieces were bigger this time," Musk said on Twitter. "Am optimistic about upcoming ship landing."
Last month, a Falcon 9 booster touched down on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after dispatching 11 small communications satellites into orbit.
SpaceX wants to be able to land rockets on ocean platforms as well as on the ground to accommodate a wide variety of space missions. It has more than 60 launches on its schedule, worth more than $8 billion.
Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Frances Kerry