Vandenberg SFB Falcon 9 Launch

This video was made by Tom Polakis, a local astronomy colleague. He graciously gave permission to use it in Sky Lights. You can see more of his amazing work at: https://www.pbase.com/polakis/.

His video shows the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 22 Starlink satellites, 6 of which can beam service directly to cell phones. It lifted off on April 7 at 7:25 pm local time from Vandenberg SFP (used to be AFB until the Space Force was created). The Sun set about 30 minutes before launch, so the exhaust plume of the rocket is brightly lit by the sunlight still available at high altitudes.

Tom lives in Tempe, east of Phoenix, so he shot this launch from near the Broadway Curve on I-10. The flow of traffic provides as sense of time scale to the video, which appears to be running around 5X real speed. It seems to be a video (not a time lapse) judging from how smooth the motion looks.

Contrast Tom’s video with the time lapse of a launch that I shot back in 2017. You can see it here. The time lapse progression is obvious (among other issues) during what was my first attempt to capture a launch. I should have been using 1 second instead of 4 seconds for that time lapse — the speed at which it moved across the sky surprised me. Vandenberg is almost 500 miles from here so I was expecting the motion to look slower (click map to enlarge):

SpaceX has another launch site in Boca Chica, TX that it’s using for its Starship launches. Named Starbase, it’s located near the southernmost point of Texas. Given the size of Starship a launch would be spectacular to watch. Alas, we won’t see that from Phoenix since it’s about twice the distance of Vandenberg, and Starbase  will always launch toward the east to take advantage of Earth’s rotation (see: How Fast Earth Spins).

SpaceX is going to be launching a LOT more rockets from Vandenberg as they build their Starlink constellation. Next time there’s a favorably timed launch I’ll try another time lapse, but this time I’ll use the wide angle lens and a 1 second interval. Watch this space.

Next Week in Sky Lights ⇒ April 8 Solar Eclipse

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April 8 Solar Eclipse
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