Not-a-UFO alert: If you were in California tonight around 7:15-7:30 pm watching the sky toward LA and Vandenberg Air Force Base you likely saw a Falcon 9 rocket, with a huge glowing cloud around it. Watch here. My footage with an iPhone, unenhanced, shows that it was indeed not subtle, as Elon Musk foretold.
Here it is brightened up a bit. Some of that exhaust will stay in the stratosphere for 3-4 years. How cool is that? Eh, anyway, it was an awesome sight.
FOR THE FIRST time since July 25, a Falcon 9 sits perched atop SpaceX’s California launch pad, ready to fly. Its mission: to deposit an Argentinean Earth-observing satellite, dubbed SAOCOMM-1A, into orbit. What’s new with this flight is that SpaceX will attempt to have the rocket touch down in the middle of a new landing zone, a mere quarter mile from where it launched.
So far, the company’s west coast landings have all taken place on the company’s drone ship, Just Read the Instructions. The Federal Aviation Administration recently granted SpaceX permission to make its first so-called return to launching site landing, or RTLS, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California. (SpaceX’s previous RTLS landings occurred in Cape Canaveral, Florida). SpaceX leased the would-be California landing zone from the Air Force in 2015, but only recently obtained clearance to activate it.
The launch is scheduled for 7:21 pm PT on Sunday, October 7.
If all goes according to plan, less than 9 minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s first stage will come back to Earth safely at SpaceX’s “Landing Zone 4” facility at Vandenberg. You can watch the launch live here at Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly via SpaceX. Coverage will start about 20 minutes before liftoff.
“Sonic boom warning,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter Saturday “This won’t be subtle.”
SpaceX has landed more than two dozen Falcon 9 first stages, but this would be the first to touch down on the West Coast. The other landings have occurred at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, or on robotic “drone ships” stationed in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. …
Visibility depends on cloud cover, launch angle and other factors, but if you plan to be outside, here is the visibility of a typical 1 stage rocket launched from Vandenberg. I saw it clearly from San Francisco tonight.
These are fun to watch and I love a good space program, but I do think we should be aware that each launch depetes the Earth’s life-allowing ozone layer a bit. Martin Ross, an Aerospace Corp. engineer whose research focuses on the effects of space systems on the stratosphere, has some cautions space companies should heed as the number of rocket launches increases.
Thanks to Blue Origin, SpaceX and other space ventures, the skies could well be filled with rockets in years to come. But what will that do to the environment? The short answer is, not that much right now. But as experts look to the years ahead, the answer gets as hazy as the air after a Falcon Heavy launch.
… When it comes to kerosene-fueled rockets, such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, black carbon is the primary concern. “Once those particles get into the stratosphere, they stay in there for three or four years,” Ross said.
… The other wild card is the shift to methane as a rocket propellant. Both SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing methane-fueled rocket engines (the Raptor and the BE-4, respectively) that could set a new standard for commercial spaceflight. “We don’t know anything about how a methane rocket affects the ozone layer,” Ross said. …
Space provides many great opportunities and it seems likely that we will need a robust space program to survive future extinction level events, but let’s visit responsibly, because right now we only have this one planet.