Viewing the Antares / Cygnus Launch

Update from Orbital Sciences:

Visibility map of  Antares/Cygnus launch on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, VA. Credit: NASA Wallops Flight Facility
Visibility map of Antares/Cygnus launch on Sept. 18, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops, VA. Credit: NASA Wallops Flight Facility

Tomorrow, September 18 2013, Orbital Sciences Corp are launching their Cygnus cargo spacecraft atop an Antares launch vehicle to resupply the International Space Station from Wallops Island, VA. The launch window is from 11:16 to 11:31 a.m. 10:50 to 11:05 am Eastern Daylight Time. If the weather is clear, that should mean a good sighting opportunity for those of us in the mid-Atlantic region.

Unlike the LADEE launch earlier this month, however,  Antares/Cygnus is going to be harder to spot for a few reasons.

For one, it’s a daytime launch. Nighttime launches are always going to be easier to spot from a distance.

Second, it’s launching to the South East, “away” from those of us in Virginia, Maryland,  & Philly. If you’re in NJ, NY, etc., it will seem to go toward the East more. Here’s an expected view from my home in the Westminster, MD area:

Google Earth view from my home showing the projected trajectory of Antares. http://www.orbital.com/antares-cygnus/files/Antares-A-ONE-Viewing.zip
Google Earth view from my home near Westminster, MD showing the projected trajectory of Antares. Google Earth visualization Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp

My friends & family in the Philly area will have a somewhat better view as they’re further east and will see the trajectory arc a little more eastward.

Projected trajectory from the Springfield Mall, looking toward the South East
Projected trajectory from the Springfield Mall, Springfield, PA looking toward the South East. Google Earth visualization Credit: Orbital Sciences Corp

Third, the first stage is a liquid-fueled rocket. Liquid-fueled rockets burn “clean” in that they do not have a long fiery and smokey exhaust like solid-fueled rockets do. If the vehicle can be seen at all during the first stage, it will look like a small bright dot with a small puff of smoke behind it. Depending on the atmospheric conditions, it may leave a contrail.  (Antares’ second stage is solid-fueled so it will be much more visible when it lights but the rocket will be further away by that point.)

So, it won’t be quite as easy to spot as LADEE’s launch earlier this month, but it’s certainly worth a shot. Good luck!

Update

When it comes to viewing rocket launches from a distance, timing is everything. You can watch the countdown on your smart phone which will let you know if there are any delays. But bear in mind that the feed to your phone is about a minute (or more) in the past, so be sure to start looking toward the horizon around 30-50 seconds before “launch.”

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