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SpaceX Rocket Stuns Californians As It Carries 10 Satellites Into Space ( 105

A reused SpaceX rocket carried 10 satellites into orbit from California on Friday, leaving behind a trail of mystery and wonder as it soared into space. Elon Musk jokingly tweeted a video of the rocket with the caption, "Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea." The Guardian reports: The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from coastal Vandenberg air force base, carrying the latest batch of satellites for Iridium Communications. The launch in the setting sun created a shining, billowing streak that was widely seen throughout southern California and as far away as Phoenix, Arizona. Calls came in to TV stations as far afield as San Diego, more than 200 miles south of the launch site, as people puzzled about what caused the strange sight. Cars stopped on freeways in Los Angeles so drivers and passengers could take pictures and video. The Los Angeles fire department issued an advisory that the "mysterious light in the sky" was from the rocket launch. The same rocket carried Iridium satellites into orbit in June. That time, the first stage landed on a floating platform in the Pacific ocean. This time, the rocket was allowed to plunge into the sea. It was the 18th and final launch of 2017 for SpaceX, which has contracted to replace Iridium's system with 75 updated satellites. SpaceX has made four launches and expects to make several more to complete the job by mid-2018. The satellites also carry payloads for global aircraft tracking and a ship-tracking service. Did any Slashdotters manage to view the spectacle?
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SpaceX Rocket Stuns Californians As It Carries 10 Satellites Into Space

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  • I live in Camarillo, in Ventura County, and saw both the frozen lightning and the rocket. Actually, my sister and I saw two different lights, drifting toward the west. No pictures, though, as we were too busy to get out our phones.
  • That's the wrong direction, did it launch retrograde?
    • The satellites are nearly in polar orbits. South of Vandenberg is ocean, as it is to the west.

    • Polar. They launched to the south, out over the Pacific.

    • Re:Into the Pacific? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @05:54AM (#55794893) Homepage

      It launched south, went over Antarctica and back up along the east coast of Africa and through the middle east. I believe SpaceX only uses California for polar orbits, Florida for normal orbits.

      • Ok that makes sense. Although I would think a location closer to a pole would be more suitable, if you have a location just for polar launches, since the rockets would get less prograde momentum from there.
        • Yes, but you have to have a location with ocean to the south for safety. Unless we start launching from Alaska, there aren't more northerly locations with the ocean to the south.
          • They can start from Scotland, to the North :)
            It is one of the most Northern locations with not too much freezing, so this could actually be pretty good. Though I don't know how difficult the legal and customs aspects are.
        • If you're going for 7500 m/s southward, adding additional 400 m/s westward is a 10 m/s difference, courtesy of Mr. Pythagoras.
      • by idji ( 984038 )
        Van den Berg Airforce Base in California is the only place in US near the equator where launching south won't crash on anyone if there's a failure.
        Florida is the only place in the US near the equator where launching east wont' crash on anyone if there's a failure.
  • Spectacular (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 23, 2017 @05:44AM (#55794859)

    I grew up in Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley. Starting in the early 1960s when I was 10 years old, I saw dozens of rocket launches from Vandenberg. They are/were generally not announced ahead of time. Maybe that's changed. When lit up by the sun from below the horizon, like this evenings launch, the rocket trail glows against the dark background.
    The more spectacular launches in the 1960's and 70's were the result of explosions. You could see the trail suddenly bloom much wider, and the rocket at the front of the trail would often slow it's foreward trajectory, of even disappear of drop downward.
    This evenings launch I caught driving home in the early stages, instantly recognized what it was. I pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed a vintage mini-monocular I keep in the car. 10x or something like that.
    What you see is the rocket trail, like an airplane trail, and at the front of the trail is rocket itself. At the front there is a bowshock , the tail spreading out from the rocket. With the monocular the bright rocket was not resolved beyond a large 'point.'
    I first saw it driving toward it after passing some small hills. The trail was to the west, with a gap in it. The trail was wider with more detail than a plane trail. The trail tends to widen over time, staring off fairly thin, say 1/10th or 20th the moon's diameter, and in a few minutes 10 or 20 moon diameters.
    This launch was impressive for:
    1. it seemed to be lower in the atmosphere than any other launch I've seen. It may have had a different trajectory than most launches.
    2. It was moving faster than any I had seen before.
    3. It was brighter, more contrast, as a result of lighting effects, and maybe actually being closer.
    4. I watched it until it disappeared behind the hills, less than 10 minutes, spreading over at least 40 degrees.
    5. The trail showed a lot of filament like detail, randomly spread out.
    6 Staging occurred about 1/2 way through my viewpoint. I could see the falling away stage spiraling, leaving a corkscrew trail. This was spectactular--okay, for Gen-Xers: This was awesome. Naked eye and with the monocular I could see the second stage moving in a loop, making a loop every 5 or 7 seconds. I had never seen this in any detail.
    Comment: I don't know if the bright view of the main rocket and the falling away stage was more reflected sunlight or a direct few of the rocket flame. My guess is with greater distance the brightness of the flame was lessened. With the monocular the main rocket and falling stage appeared not as points, but as a bright spot, that I could not resolved to see any detail.
    After staging, the falling stage continued heading SE, but more east, while the main rocket left it behind heading SE but more south. As the separation of the two increased I could see a few bright spots that seemed to fall away from the main rocket. Satellites? Parts being jettisoned?
    Meanwhile the trail keeps getting fatter, and the effects of wind start to slowly twist it.
    Around 15 minutes after I first spotted it, and it has faded, and the filamentous detail has faded too. Or blended together. During this last phase color become more saturated. In the earlier portion of the event the trail is bright white with faints hits of color. At the end the trail becomes a fainter patch but with definite color. Blue-turquoise dominated the Western edge, while the south eastern and southern view was still white. I've seen the Aurora Borealis, but I suspect something like this.
    Anyone care to compare this to a Canaveral launch, with the ocean and sun in the opposite direction?

    • Saw it from the beach in LA, and it was very impressive. I have to admit I had no idea what I was looking at; funny how the altitude isn't obvious. The first stage separation was very distinctive, but the glow of the trail really made it amazing to watch.

      I am still a little confused by the bright dot that appeared to fall into the ocean while the second stage kept glowing as you describe; presumably that was the payload after second stage separation, although my impression was that it was the payload fairi

      • The second stage firing right after separation created a 3-D fan of lighted vapor that many observers interpreted as a transparent blimp.

        • Need to find a narrated version of the video. I could clearly see where the first stage was, so confident it wasn’t that. I could also see the second stage shooting off, but from the second stage one dot was clearly visible; there could have been two. It looked like a flare with a parachute.

    • You can get the same effect from a pre-dawn launch from Canaveral []. The contrail, being so high up in the atmosphere, is lit by the sun while the ground and most of the sky above the observer is still in darkness. On the west coast the conditions for this to happen occur after sunset. On the east coast the conditions occur before sunrise.
  • Best Vid I've Seen (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kunedog ( 1033226 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @05:50AM (#55794877)
  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @06:57AM (#55795025)
    For some reason SpaceX didn't want this one back. It was a Mod 3, and they are building Mod 5s. It was its second flight, so I guess they had no need for it. But, they did go through the landing procedure. When the second stage released, you could see the first stage fire its return to land burn. You could also hear them announce the reentry burn. I think I even heard them announce the landing burn. But there was no ship to land on. I guess they just did all this for testing and practice.
    • I've read rumors that they needed to scavenge some parts off the drone ship to repair the drone ship on the other coast.
      It would make sense to prioritize it since the next launches from Florida are Zuma which will be a new booster, and the Falcon Heavy which is a custom center booster.

    • I believe I read somewhere that they were going to use more aerodynamic braking in the future (Block 5's only?), to use less fuel for landing. So this may have been an envelope-expansion test, basically flying sideways as much as they dared to see if it would stay controllable and hold together. They may have left the legs off and the barge in port because they thought the chances of success were low. (Spin recovery training and research has always been dangerous for planes, and in a rocket you have big ta
      • I read somewhere that they were going to use more aerodynamic braking in the future (Block 5's only?), to use less fuel for landing

        So they're heading back towards the solution we used for the Shuttle's solid rocket boosters - attach parachutes and let them drift down into the ocean, where a ship tracks them down [] and picks them up [].

        • No, they're just flying at a higher angle of attack to do more maneuvering aerodynamically instead of with propulsion. They tried parachutes and soft-landing in the water...parachutes couldn't even keep the stage intact through reentry, and even the softest splashdowns led to stages breaking up either when they toppled over or because of waves afterward. Even if the stage remained mostly intact, at best they'd be able to salvage some pieces of hardware.

          The goal is rapid reuse, with little more than a quick

    • I read a comment somewhere indicating SpaceX have more landed boosters than they know what to do with at the moment. The Block 3 stages seem to need a fairly large amount of work to refurbish for another launch.

  • Didn't anyone notice ?

    1. No report about first stage landing
    2. Curious spiraling motion of first stage after separation

    • Apparently, they were doing an experimental water landing. Go through the motions of a landing, but without the boat.

    • by krelvin ( 771644 )

      Not odd at all. It was planned that way.

      The SpaceX Iridium 4 Launch was a full thrust launch to get the Iridium satellites in the necessary orbit. When done the 1st stage would not have enough fuel to make a landing so they didn't attempt it. See the official mission overview:

      Official mission overview
      SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will deliver 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit for Iridium. SpaceX is targeting launch of Iridium-4 from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Californ

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday December 23, 2017 @09:31AM (#55795357)

    Nobody is "stunned" here. Are you desperately trying to get attention?

  • Calling about is everything okay with the alien space cloud from Planet 10, or should he just go ahead and destroy North Korea?

  • ..because it's always aliens. Seriously, Spacex should make a movie of all their successes and failures to encourage others to never, ever give up on their dreams. It's a shame Elon's too smart to run for office.

  • As a professional space whale biologist I can tell you with absolute certainty that the footage was of an albino space whale.
  • Amazing what you can accomplish with just the right chemical reactions. And lots of it.

    One day this will look like such a crude and primitive method of ascending out of our gravity well.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant