Late Night Launch From 100 Miles Away

If you’re a regular here, you’ve seen the western view from my front yard a few hundred times as I’ve shared sunset pictures of conjunctions and moonsets and planets and comets and, well, sunsets. For reference:

Last night about 23:48 SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a few dozen smallsats and cubesats and microsats and a couple of bigger satellites. They’re launching out of Vandenberg pretty regularly these days, but most are during the day and unless you know exactly where to look, you’re not going to spot that tiny, reasonably faint little dot in the bright sunlit sky. Or it will be cloudy.

But at night…

For reference, those dimly lit vertical lines are those palm trees in the center of the sunset picture and the tops of the neighbors’ trees can be seen at the bottom center and right. Vandenberg is at about midway between those big Italian cypress trees on the right, over the horizon. The rocket comes into view right about at the right base of Castle Peak, just to the left of the far left Italian cypress, headed up and to the left.

As the rocket rises it’s tail gets longer while the air pressure is dropping with increasing altitude. This is the first stage booster firing, nine Merlin engines, about 100 miles away, west of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands.

Just a few seconds after this (all very visible to the eye, not so much to the cell phone camera) this flame trail cut off at MECO (Main Engine Cut Off). The first stage booster separated and the second stage engine ignited. There was a cloud of gas and exhaust visible dimly (nothing like the “jellyfish” effect you get with a sunset launch) and the booster relights a couple of engines for its “boosteback” burn, returning to land at Vandenberg to be used for an eleventh time in a few weeks. The second stage was visible all the way to the southern horizon until it disappeard over the Malibu Hills. By that time it was well south and still climbing, probably somewhere along the Baja Penninsula.

Next on the runway? Or the launch pad, in this case? The first Starship test flight, possibly as early as Monday morning about 07:00 CDT (05:00 PDT). That’s way early for an olde phart like me, and my Monday schedule is a bit packed. But one of my earliest memories is my Dad dragging me out of bed waaaaaaaay before sunrise to watch Alan Shepherd ride the first Mercury suborbital flight, so I think I’ll be able to pull this off.

Isn’t that why God invented caffeine?

1 Comment

Filed under Photography, Space

One response to “Late Night Launch From 100 Miles Away

  1. Pingback: Allgemeines Live-Blog ab dem 16. April 2023 | Skyweek Zwei Punkt Null

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