We had some time to kill today, so Tom Wolf and I made a little video to explain today’s launch postponement. Since making this video, we learned that launch is GO for tomorrow, so yay! My full post is below, but in the meantime…
I woke up this morning in my hotel to a beautiful, albeit cold, morning on Chincoteague Island, VA. I glanced at my email only to discover that today’s launch had been postponed. It wasn’t a problem with the Cygnus spacecraft, nor the Antares rocket, nor (thankfully) a new problem on board the International Space Station. Everything was perfect down here on earth.
But in space, the weather was absolutely horrible. Here’s why:
Holy mother of all sunspots, Batman, those are HUGE! To give you an idea of just how large we’re talking about, let’s make a little comparison for scale:
Those sunspots are the reason for today’s postponement. Sunspots are regions of angelic instability on the “surface” of the Sun. They mark the locations of magnetic field lines that rupture, unleashing a storm of charged particles into space at speeds of up to 2 million miles per hour. Those particles strike Earth’s magnetic field, giving us aurorae at the north and south poles:
Unfortunately, that means a lot more radiation in the near-Earth environment, and this poses a problem for launch. The Cygnus spacecraft is “hardened” against radiation, but the Antares rocket isn’t, and the launch team were concerned that it might play havoc with the rocket’s avionics, hence the postponement.
Yesterday, Orbital Sciences rolled out the Antares rocket to the launch pad, hoping for a launch of Orb-1 to the International Space Station tomorrow. I’ll be heading down to Wallops Island tonight and will be out in the cold watching the launch (yes I know, I’m really taking one for the team here.)
As the trajectory for tomorrow’s launch hasn’t changed, I updated my launch viewing guidewith the planned launch window.
Launch is scheduled for tomorrow, January 8 at 1:32pm EST. Hope you get to see it from where you are!
Another day, another rocket launch out of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. This time it’s an Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo ship up to the International Space Station. Orbital Sciences corp launched a Cygnus to ISS back in September as a demonstration flight, giving NASA and Orbital the experience to take on regular resupply flights to the station, beginning with this week’s launch.
Antares was rolled out to the launch pad last night and there’s a really nice photo set on Flickr you can check out. Launch is currently scheduled for 9:19 pm Eastern time on Thursday, Dec 19, and yours truly will be there to cover it because they gave me press credentials (does happy dance).
Now keep in mind that NASA are currently working a cooling pump problem aboard the space station. They’re not sure if they can limp along with a backup system or if they will need to do a spacewalk to make repairs. If they decide to go ahead with an EVA, this launch could be postponed again, so stay tuned.
Be sure to check out their page as they have several visualizations from New York, Philly, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Norfolk VA, among other places. They also have a Google Earth KMZ file which you can download and use to get an idea of what the launch trajectory will look like from your location. Here’s a few I created:
What you should expect to see, and when
Antares is a liquid-fuel rocket, which means it should produce a yellow-white colored exhaust arcing quickly across the southeastern sky like what you see in the images above (except at night).
The launch window is from 9:19 – 9:24 pm EST on Thursday (02:19 – 02:24 am GMT Dec. 20) . 1:32-1:37 pm EST on Wednesday (18:32-18:37 GMT).They’ll try to launch on time at 9:19 1:32 but keep in mind that the farther you are from the launch site, the longer it will take for the rocket to clear the horizon. The images I show above assume a flat horizon all the way to Wallops, and we know that’s not the case. Fortunately, Orbital created a first sighting map to give you some idea of when you should expect to see the rocket clear the horizon (keep in mind though that it would have already moved slightly eastward by the time you pick it up).
Antares is a two-stage rocket, so it will appear to dim and then light up again a little further to the east as the expended stage is jettisoned and the next stage ignites.
Monitor the launch on your smart phone, but watch the timing
You can also monitor NASA Wallops on Twitter and Facebook as well to stay on top of the countdown and make sure nothing has been postponed so you can time your viewing just right.
…keep in mind that everything coming down to your tablet or cell phone is probably going to be a minute or so after the fact. If you wait until you hear them say “liftoff” to go outside and look, the rocket may already have reached orbit. Instead, listen to / follow the countdown to make sure the launch time hasn’t changed, and then use your cell phone’s clock to make sure you’re really at L-0, *then* look toward Wallops!
Watch with friends to increase your chances of actually seeing it
Even at night, the rocket may be hard to spot, especially if this is your first time. Haze, aircraft, and all kinds of things can be in the field of view to confuse you even more. If you’re with a small group of people, chances are that one of you will be able to spot it and point it out for the rest. Watch with friends to increase your chances!
Watching and tracking rocket launches is challenging and fun, especially at night. Hopefully the weather from your location will cooperate and you get to see an amazing show. Good luck!