Saturday, September 7, 2013

LADEE Launch

Last night NASA launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) from Wallops Island, VA. It was the first launch from Wallops to leave Earth orbit. And it was close enough to home for me to watch from the back yard. 

The weather was cool and clear here, starting to feel like autumn, so my wife and I had an evening camp fire complete with S'mores. What a yummy prelude. The a little after 11:00 pm we headed out to our dock. We had done a fair bit of research to determine where we should watch it from. Thanks to some wonderful data put together by the launch team we could map the flight in Google Earth and test our view. So we went out and settled in to watch.
I had set my alarm for 2 minutes before launch. According to the launch team data, we should see the rocket on the horizon around 20 seconds after lift-off. But I suspect that we had a particularly clear view because the first thing we saw was an orangish glow on the horizon. Several seconds later it brightened and see could see the rocket streaking out from behind the distant trees. 
To photograph the launch I set up my camera to take 20 second exposures. I then used a remote release so we could sit several feet away and not be distracted by the lights on the camera and the camera wouldn't be affected by any shaking we did on the pier. I started the above exposure just as we realized that the glow was probably the rocket igniting. 
The rest of these were taken in sequence with minimal pauses between shots. You can see in the second one a gap in the streak as the first stage dropped off and the second ignited. The second stage dropped off in the middle of the fourth picture below and the rocket coasted for a few seconds before the third stage ignited in the fifth picture. 

After the rocket moved further right you could see the plume of smoke left when the third stage ignited (below, all the way to the right edge).

And finally, I layered all of these together to get one complete view of the launch.
Both the viewing and the photographs turned out as good as I could have hoped for. And now we know where to look for future launches as more and more launches are planned from Wallops Island.

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