Sunday, January 15, 2023

Most Spectacular Falcon Heavy Launch So Far

Yesterday's scheduled launch of the USSF-64 mission was delayed early in the day when preparations apparently got behind.  It was delayed 24 hours and one minute until tonight at 5:56PM EST, but the weather was prettier, the views remarkable, and those things combined with the time of day made this the most spectacular Falcon Heavy launch we've seen so far.  Local sunset was 5:49, so seven minutes before liftoff, and a liftoff into a darker sky, maybe 15 or 30 minutes later might have led to a more vivid "space jellyfish" type of display, but it was plenty beautiful as it was.  

This video should be set up to start at 15 seconds before lift off, or 19:40 on the time scale at the bottom; the majority of the pretty stuff takes place after Booster Engine Cut Off (BECO) at T+2:29.  From here on the ground, the mission was eye candy the whole way. 

SpaceX posts this graphic describing the trajectories of the main payload and the two Falcon 9 boosters that landed back at the launch site; it's a bit distorted because it's impossible to do it to any sort of consistent scale, but it shows the main events. 

I know there's not enough room to do this, especially not to scale, but it shows the boosters flipping end over end to do their boostback burns, and it shows that burn going in the direction to slow the boosters and start them returning to the left.  Then, instead of showing them moving closer to the launch site, or even going straight down, it shows them continuing farther in direction of the payload's flight.  The landing zones should be closer to the launch pad.  And yes, I'm being too literal.

This sequence was easy to watch with our naked eyes and we could see the boostback burns.  The two boosters stopped their motion of clearly moving away from us and appeared to hang motionless in the sky.  Eventually they started to appear to be moving north from us, toward the Landing Zones on the Cape Canaveral SFS.   The entry burns were dramatic; very separated in time; the first booster to light may have burned about half of the length of its burn before the second one started, which continued after the first one shut down.  Which is how they stagger the landing time of the boosters which makes it look more dramatic - and probably has actual technical reasons, too. 

Richard Angle, whose photographs of these missions appear on Teslarati, has some excellent photos of the some of the highlights in their article.  I couldn't do them justice posting them here, so go read.  I've found that if click on one of the pictures that allows it, it will enlarge on screen.  Once they're enlarged, I can right click on the picture, select "save image as" and I get a bigger image than even the enlarged image I started with.

EDIT To Add Jan 15 @ 10:25PM EST: I've been trying to ensure when I embed a video like the one above that they play the way I intend.  I've tried it twice and it worked as I want once.  50% doesn't give me confidence.  - SiG


  1. I skipped to liftoff and watched from there.

    THIS is the future that I was promised.

    1. I think I said almost exactly the same thing to my wife.

      I never fail to smile when the smoke clears and I see the boosters standing there on the drone ship or those concrete pads. Everyone knows a rocket is supposed to land on its tail.

    2. As God and Heinlein intended! I still get a thrill seeing them return.

  2. UNDOUBTEDLY the prettiest boostback I've ever seen, conditions were juuuuuuust right!! There will be LOTS of pictures of this posted everywhere.

    You lucky dog, you.

  3. I would not be surprised if Range required the staggered landing to make sure the boosters were not heading back to the wrong location. Sure, there ain't much fuel left then, but if they were heading for YOUR homestead, you would want to be sure they would not actually arrive there.

  4. The pair return in a staggered manner so that they don't interfere with each other. I'm not sure whether this is for navigation, propulsion, or just to stagger the sonic booms on deceleration through the sound barrier.

  5. We live in amazing times.