Friday, December 9, 2022

OneWeb 15 Launch - From My Yard

And now for something completely different.  I talk about launches regularly and have posted a few pictures of different launches from my yard.  SpaceX's OneWeb 15 mission was moved a day from the 12/7 launch time I posted Monday to last night, and its trajectory was just about optimum for watching and photographing from where I live, off the coast and paralleling it to the south, so I decided to try to photograph this mission from the yard.  

We live slightly west of due south of the Space Center.  We're not on the beach (both of us grew up in Florida; you couldn't pay us to live on the beach), but the straight line distance from our place to the Atlantic is bit over four miles.  The equivalent distance to the launch complexes on the Cape is around 35 miles.  

We moved into this area in the early days of the Space Shuttle program, and immediately became avid launch watchers.  Watching a rocket lift off from over 30 miles away means they're below our horizon and even if it was clear, flat land to the horizon we wouldn't see it until it cleared the Earth's curvature.  But it's not flat land to the horizon.  Everything around here is full of trees and houses which hide the rocket for around the first full minute.  This time of year, everything that loses leaves has lost them (we don't get beautiful falls here, but some trees lose their leaves) allowing us to see closer to the horizon.  The lower in the sky, the more likely for the view to be obscured by a tree. 

Consequently, by the time we get a good look at it the first stage is around the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure (called Max Q) on it's ascent, about to go or having gone supersonic. 

This is a several seconds after passing through Max Q and a small portion of an image magnified 2x in size.

The sky was crystal clear, while it's unseasonably warm here, it's not summertime humidity levels so it's bluer, at least when the sun is up.  With the 5:27 PM liftoff, that's almost exactly sunset on the ground, but daylight up at that altitude.  The rocket is overexposed because of that. 

Several seconds later, but still short of booster engine cut off and dropping.  

Within another few seconds BECO occurred and the first stage dropped.  At this point it engaged in a series of thruster firings to slow its southward speed and get it pointing back toward the KSC and the two landing pads SpaceX has there.

Look into the right hand edge of that cloud and you'll see an orange-tinted area.  That area has two whiter specs in it; the one on the right is the second stage headed for orbit.  The one on the left is booster, still climbing so gaining altitude while slowing down. 

The two dots separated with the booster seeming to remain more stationary and the second stage still moving to the right (and up - away from the camera). 

This was almost directly overhead, I'm guessing 10 degrees east of vertical, and maybe the same 10 degrees south of east.  For the next few minutes we could see the booster putting out bursts of gas from its onboard thrusters, spreading out from the booster as concentric semi-circles. Eventually, though, we knew there would be the first engine burn of the booster to wipe out much of it's speed increase in the uppermost part of its fall.  This is the one SpaceX calls the Entry burn; turning on one engine then two more and burning the three for around 20 seconds. 

That "cloud" in the lower right corner of the frame is some of the contrail from five or six minutes earlier when the rocket went past on the way up. 

The landing site for the booster is also below the horizon so we didn't try to photograph that.  I should have kept the camera up and ready, though, because we actually got a glimpse of it.  We can't recall having seen a landing burn before and my gut feel is just that the trees are probably as low on leaves as they get and we could just see through them better.  A couple of minutes later, two loud sonic booms rolled through.

This was SpaceX's 55th successful flight of the year, and the 145th successful landing (recovery) of the booster.  This is Booster 1069 (B1069) which set a record for heaviest payload to an "actual useful orbit with booster and fairing recovered for reuse" back in August. B1069 flew in October as well, a bit less than two months after the August flight, and yesterday's launch was a bit less of two months since that.  The ispace mission is still scheduled for early Sunday morning,


  1. Nice. SpaceX had great real time vid too especially stage1 sticking the landing. i want to come visit you for future launches.

  2. Grew up in Satellite Beach. Smelled a whole lot nicer than the mainland, between the ever-horrid smell of decaying seaweed from the estuaries, the constant peat-bog fires and everything else.

    On the other hand, the overall lack of widescale shopping experiences (Walmart did not come to the beaches until after I moved away)(though we had Beall's Plaza and some other places) and being just 5-10' above sea level (watched huge dunes and dirt mounds get trucked away so more boring almost-sea-level housing could be built) and having to drive over the rivers (estuaries, really) to get to anywhere did somewhat suck.

    Being able to go about 10 blocks and across A1A to watch launches was a bonus, or you could climb up on your roof and just see. Being able to see the VAB from beach or roof, or the main launch pads, was kind of really neat.

    Watching Deltas rapidly disassemble, not so much.

    I miss the place. Don't miss the rust. Do miss the breezes. Don't miss the panic of storm season. Do miss the views. Don't miss having to go so damned far to buy stuffs.

    1. For some reason, Google decided this was spam and held it in suspense until I said to publish.

      Our thing about not wanting to live beach side is primarily not wanting to evacuate for every two-bit storm. Our house is on the highest sand ridge that runs the east coast, and 22 feet above sea level. The worst flooding we ever had was when they were tearing up the neighborhood to put in gas lines and we got two feet of rain. Even then the water came up into the front yard close to the house. Just because of the geometry of the coast line, I don't think even a cat 5 surge would get this far. Not that I'm sure the house would survive that.

      It wasn't until after the '04 storms (Frances and Jeanne) that we found out our house, built in '81, complied with the hurricane codes that Miami-Dade passed after Andrew in '92. Just the builder's approach to things. That was a bonus.

  3. The Hyatt Place Hotel parking lot on US 1 just south of NASA causeway is a good forecaster for launches. Except during hurricanes. When it is rather full, something is going up soon.

  4. You meant MECO but fat-fingered it. No worries.

    An RTLS for the booster is neat, after sep it spins like a whirling Dervish and scoots away from the second stage so fast it makes your head spin. With the aft views from the camera aboard the second stage it's really cool to watch!

    I was happy to go and watch the Bangabandu-1 launch with my wife years ago, that booster eventually self-destructed when SpaceX did a full-up test of the Dragon's escape system a few years later.

    All I can do is watch the broadcasts, since I'm living close to the Washington-Idaho border, but I'm grateful for that! SpaceX does an excellent job with their broadcasts and the on-board cameras. Everybody expects that nowadays, all other launches are...pathetic. You paying attention, Artemis/NASA?