Seeing a SpaceX Launch


Seeing a SpaceX Launch

by James Benford, President of Microwave Sciences

On Sunday night, October 7, SpaceX launched a satellite into a polar orbit for Argentina from the Vandenberg, California launch site. The Falcon rocket flew north along California and came in sight where I was in Lafayette, 375 miles north of Vandenberg. I happened to be looking southward when the rocket came into view and I took the attached photos. The first photo shows the rocket with its exhaust streaming just before the first stage dropped away.

As I watched, the first stage separated, the second stage ignited, the first stage re-started to do the “boostback” to successfully return to the launch site. The second photo shows the first stage after it made its U-turn and headed back south to Vandenberg.

From my angular measurements and online flight information, I estimate that at separation the rocket was 90 miles high and was 180 miles south of me, 195 miles north of Vandenberg. It was going about 1 mile/sec

I don't know of any prior launch into polar orbit from Vandenberg. That's likely because the 1st stage might well fall along the West Coast. SpaceX has validated its boothback technique so consistently that that risk is quite low.  Moreover, if it seems to go off course I imagine there is a way of diverging in toward the ocean.

Although the view was quite spectacular, there was little coverage of it in the local news.  I guess not many people actually look at the sky as I do.