Cygnus Launch

On Saturday November 2, 2019 NASA launched an Antares Rocket as a resupply mission to the International Space Station from the Wallops flight facility in Wallops, Virginia. Wallops is about 160 miles from my home.

Wallops is fun because I can see the rockets as they start to enter orbit once they get pretty high in the sky (like 80,000 – 100,000 feet). In the evenings it is very easy to spot them but hard to photo. This is my first attempt to see if I can see them during the day.

Friday night I did the research on when the launch was going to be performed. They had a 5 minute launch window to complete the launch. I really wanted to drive to Wallops for the launch but knew I would not have the time due to my work schedule. I’ll save that trip for another time. My mission this time was to see if I could actually see the rocket from my home and do my best to photo the rocket on the horizon.

The morning was very clear and cold but hazy. The sun was very bright making the haze even worth. I didnt think I’d be able to get a decent photo of the rocket. During the event I am listening to an Internet stream from NASA giving me details of the launch in progress. So I had a decent idea of when I might see the rocket.

I decided to use my drone to photo my “process” before and during the launch. It would also serve as a queue on where to sync up the video after the event. I start the video about 2 minutes before launch. Here is that video:

Looking through a 600 mm lens is like looking through a very powerful telescope which makes it quite hard to find your subject “randomly” when you are holding it in your hand looking through a tiny view finder window. You really have to focus. And then focusing on such a faint subject so far away takes a little skill. Even so I was quite surprised that I could seen the rocket so clearly once I locked on the image through the long lens. It wouldn’t last long. Maybe 30 seconds.

The photo I took looked pretty good. Until I got it on the computer I didnt realize that it was in perfect focus and you could see the engine firing through the smoke of the contrail.

Cygnus NG-12

It turns out that I have to wait until the rocket is just about done with its first stage burn at an altitude of about 100,000 feet before it comes into view. For future launches this is helpful to know. And now that I’ve seen many of these launches I know exactly where to look on the horizon.

It was fun to participate in the event even if it was from afar. We’ll get out there soon during one of the launches in the future. Hopefully to get photos that are a little closer.

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