Are you living along the U.S. East Coast? If yes, then you have a great opportunity to see a rocket launch from your own backyard 27th Oct, Monday evening. However, you will need to know how to spot the dazzling liftoff.
Orbital Sciences Corp built a commercial Antares rocket, which is due to blast off at 6:45 p.m. EDT (2245 GMT) from a pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Virginia. It is the first-ever night launch of the two-stage Antares rocket and as per the weather updates, the flight could be visible from Massachusetts to South Carolina.
You can watch the Antares rocket launch live on Space.com beginning at 5:45 p.m. EDT (2145 GMT). But viewers on the U.S. East Coast should be sure to be looking in the right direction to see the launch.
The Antares rocket will launch an Orbital-built Cygnus spacecraft on Orb-3, the third official cargo delivery mission to the ISS (International Space Station) for NASA under a $1.9 billion contract. If all goes well, the robotic Cygnus spacecraft should arrive at the station on 2nd Nov to deliver nearly 5,000 lbs. of supplies.
What to expect
The launching views on Monday night’s rocket launch will vary depending on where you live on the East Coast. The further away you are from the launch site, the closer to the horizon the rocket will appear during its way up. As a reference, your clasped fist held at arm’s length is roughly 10 degrees in width.
For instance, if a Skywatcher is trying to locate the launch from Philadelphia, the highest point the Antares rocket will reach is about 13 degrees above the horizon. It’s implausible that an observer will be able to view the launch when it’s below 5 degrees above the horizon because buildings, vegetation, and other terrain features will probably get in the way.
Orbital Sciences’ Antares will reach 5 degrees above the horizon about 100 seconds after launch, as seen from Philadelphia.
The launch of the Antares will be evident along the East Coast by virtue of the light released from its two stages. The first stage uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as propellants, powering two Aerojet AJ-26 engines, which are modified Russian-built NK-33 engines originally developed for Russia’s N-1 moon rocket.
Certainly, Antares should appear as a bright, moving star. If using binoculars, you might be able to see a tiny V-shaped contrail. Because the first stage of Antares is liquid fueled, its rise is slower than the Minotaur rockets that have launched from Wallops in recent years.
180 seconds after the Antares’ launch, the spacecraft will have risen to an altitude where it will begin to be illuminated by the sun which could make it appear brighter. Antares will throw away its first stage once it has spent all its fuel, 239 seconds after launch. This safely breaks up in the atmosphere and falls into the Atlantic Ocean.
Now comes a coasting phase, which lasts about 47 seconds after finishing the first stage; the sunlit rocket should continue to be visible, followed by ignition of the second stage, 4 minutes 41 seconds after launch. The second stage is a solid-fuel rocket, the Castor 30XL.
A Bright Rocket Contrail
At this point, the altitude of the Antares’ will be 86.9 miles (139.8 kilometers). At this altitude, the ensuing sap trail from its Castor 30XL upper stage motor will be illuminated by sunlight, perhaps leaving a long, glowing contrail in its wake. Though many West Coast residents might be familiar with such launch sightings by Minotaur rocket launchings originating from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, they are very rare in the East, and as such may end up surprising millions of people if Antares launches on schedule on Monday evening.
The second stage of the rocket will burn for 166 seconds and then, along with the Cygnus cargo ship, Antares will be put into a low-Earth orbit. Once it’s part ways from the second stage 9 minutes, 27 seconds after launch, Cygnus will then use its own engines to continue on its own mission to the ISS (International Space Station).
Moreover, the second stage will appear beyond downrange and at a lower altitude than where the first stage shut down appeared. The route appears to dip back toward Earth as the rocket moves further away from the spectator and vanishes beyond the horizon. The rocket, of course, is not returning to Earth — it is continuing its rise, speeding higher and faster toward space.
The launch’s public viewing will be available at the NASA Visitor Center at Wallops. NASA has more information about the Visitors Center on its website. For any questions about viewing the launch from the Visitor Center, call: 757.824.1344. For updates on the launch, call: 757.824.2050.
On the other hand, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague National Seashore will not be open to watch the launch.
If you are using an Android, you can also download the new “What’s Up at Wallops” app, which contains information on the launch as well as a compass showing the precise direction for launch viewing.
Orbital Sciences have named its Orb-3 Cygnus spacecraft the SS Deke Slayton in tribute to original Mercury 7 astronaut Donald “Deke” K. Slayton, who flew on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission in 1975 and championed commercial space endeavors after retiring from NASA in 1982. Slayton passed away in 1993.
The Orb-3 mission follows cargo launches in January and July, and a test flight to the station in April 2013. Orbital Sciences has 5 more cargo runs to the orbiting station for NASA, under its $1.9 billion deal.
SpaceX, the California-based company also has its own $1.6 billion deal with NASA to provide 12 cargo missions to the space station using its own Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rockets. The 4th Dragon mission under that deal came to a successful end on Saturday, 25th Oct, when the unmanned Dragon capsule returned to Earth after just over a month at the station.