I had front row seats for the launch (sort of)
Falcon 9 added another 23 satellites to the Starlink network on October 30. The launch took place successfully at 07:20 EDT…
And I got to watch it happen!
What did I see?
Routing from LGW to MCO, we were heading in on the arrival at around 14,000’ when ATC called us up –
“Bacon1*, if you look out to the left right about now you’ll get to see a rocket launch.”
*Not my actual callsign, would be if I owned my own airline though
We were on the ALYNA3 arrival, right around the SURFR point. Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center are to the south.
That looks kinda close?
Yuh, it kinda was, but the NASA folk are a clever bunch and take into account the trajectory, wind patterns, the Earth’s rotation and all of that sort of thing when calculating both the launch path and, as importantly, the expected path for falling debris and a fairly big buffer zone is established.
Whenever a launch is planned, NOTAMs are issued defining the area (or ‘reservation’) so ATC and aircraft can ensure they remain clear.
Like this one:
And if all those Lats and Longs don’t mean much to you then here is a plot I made earlier show where it lay in relation to the route:
Give me some launch info.
After liftoff from Pad 40, the Falcon 9 pitched and rolled onto a south-easterly trajectory, targeting an orbit inclined at 43 degrees to the equator.
This was actually the second launch attempt – the first was attempted on October 29 but aborted at T-30 seconds due to a problem detected in the system that controls the separation between the first and second stages of the rocket.
It returned to Earth just 8.5 minutes after this launch, landing on the spaceport “ship” ‘Just Read the Instructions”*, but not before helping deposit another 23 satellites into a 293x285km orbit (that’s an LEO – low earth orbit).
*Best name for a spaceport
SpaceX have, on average, a launch every 4 days and this the 90th orbital mission of the year. The booster for this launch is an old pro having done 7 previous launches already, including one on October 2022 that carried crew to the ISS.
Give me some more space info
Like us (Earth based aircraft) they are very reliant on good weather conditions which is why launches tend to have windows across several periods.
Satellites are also impacted by space weather, which in turn impacts us (if it is satellites we are reliant on like navigation or communication ones).
A great source for monitoring space weather and the potential impact is the NOAA site.
NASA have recently released a new app to help folk spot the Space Station, and apps like Night Sky can help you find all the satellites up there as well as constellations, planets, alien space craft…
How can you see a launch?
Well, you can visit the Kennedy Space Center on a launch day (check their website for dates).
You can also spot Starlink itself up in the night sky – it looks like a long ‘worm’ of lights.
What did we see?
Well, we didn’t see the steam plume sadly, and we didn’t hear anything, but we did see it light up, head up and the ‘contrail’ it left behind. Sunset is around 18:40 local there at the moment, but this was a clear bright night and you can’t really miss a rocket launching about 20nm away from you so we had a direct view across the water.
An amazing site given what this means in terms of humankind’s innovation and technology!