Yesterday morning, SpaceX launched a secret payload for the very secretive National Reconnaissance Office, NROL-76. Since these launches are visible from the backyard, that's where I went to see it. The view was bad - blame it on the neighbor's trees and an ill-placed cloud - but their livestream feed of the launch was excellent, and the combination of excellent angle to the sun and generally bright, clear skies gave us the best view ever of the return of their booster. The first stage landed on a bulls eye pad, about 9 miles south of pad 39A, where it was launched from. This is a new vehicle which they plan to inspect and re-fly if it's in good enough shape. Enjoy the video:
As I usually say, watch it in full screen and the highest resolution your connection supports. The launch isn't until 12:00 into the feed, so you can skip over that much if you just want to see the flight, and skip further ahead to 14:15 for first stage separation and the video that follows.
The range infrastructure that SpaceX leases includes tracking cameras from the Space Shuttle era that lock onto the booster and all the cameras to film it virtually all the way up and down. The booster can be seen separating from the second stage, and beginning maneuvers to return to the Cape while still coasting toward its apogee at about 150 miles altitude. The visual that stood out to me was the large bursts of nitrogen, used as thrusters to help maintain the position of the orientation of the booster. They're very dramatic, looking like white jet spray coming out of various places on the booster.
It's the coolest video of one of these landings I've seen. While I haven't kept a spreadsheet of missions or anything, I read the last six attempts to land a booster have succeeded. Before that, there as a string or three good out of four.
Wow. That was amazing. Can't wait to see the Falcon Heavy launch and land.ReplyDelete
Might make a trip to the Cape to catch the sight and sound. I miss that sound (lived at Vandenburg from '66 to '70, Kwajalein from '70 to '73, and then Satellite Beach from '73 to '83, and I miss watching launches, hearing launches, being around the launch culture.)
Several of my former Boeing/Sea Launch buddies are working there.ReplyDelete
I ran the RF telemetry tracker on the Sea Launch Commander, so while I got to turn around and look out the window for a few seconds to see the launch, I had to get back on the controls for the tracker once the LV had "cleared the tower". We always had trouble maintaining autotrack at staging because we were looking almost right up the plume. The first stage of the Zenit used little solid fuel retros, and when they fired at staging to back the first stage away, they made such a big cloud of ionized gas that we couldn't see the RF from the payload.
The SpaceX guys have it easier as their tracking geometry gives them a much better "side view" of the ascent.
I'd like the see the temperature of the first stage on re-entry. Watching the flames lick up the sides of the thing made me think of it, but that comes after the air friction @ 1300m/s must have already made it pretty toasty.ReplyDelete