Photos: Nighttime Launch from Wallops Island Visible to Millions

Last night’s launch of a Minotaur I rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia was visible to millions along the east coast of the US and southern Canada, and many were out with their cameras to watch the sight.

The launch sent a record payload of 29 satellites to low Earth orbit, including the first cubesat built by high school students.

Launch occurred at about 8:15 p.m. EST on November 19 (01:15 UTC, Nov. 20).

Minotaur 1 rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Nov. 19, 2013. Credit: NASA/Jeremy Eggers.
Minotaur 1 rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Nov. 19, 2013. Credit: NASA/Jeremy Eggers.

Approximately 12 minutes after lift-off, the Air Force’s Space Test Program Satellite-3 spacecraft was deployed into its intended orbit at an altitude of approximately 500 km (310 miles). The Minotaur’s upper stage then executed a pre-planned collision avoidance maneuver before starting deployment of 28 CubeSats sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Test Program, and NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.

This was the 25th launch for Orbital Science’s Minotaur rocket, all of which have been successful, and the sixth Minotaur vehicle to be launched from the Wallops facility.

The launch of the Minotaur 1 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility was photographed from Lancaster, PA on November 19, 2013. Credit and copyright: Marion Haligowski.
The launch of the Minotaur 1 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility was photographed from Lancaster, PA on November 19, 2013. Credit and copyright: Marion Haligowski.

Marion Haligowski took the image above, saying “I should have used a wider lens; I didn’t realize the launch would take up 1/4 of the sky from 154 miles away!” and of her image below she added, “I was surprised how high the separation was from 154 miles away from the Wallops Island launch site.”

Final separation of the Minotaur 1 is seen high in the sky of Lancaster, PA on the evening of November 19, 2013. Two exposures were stacked in StarStaX using a Canon T2i (ISO 400 / 25 seconds) and a 50 mm f/1.4 lens at f/5.6. Credit and copyright: Marion Haligowski.
Final separation of the Minotaur 1 is seen high in the sky of Lancaster, PA on the evening of November 19, 2013. Two exposures were stacked in StarStaX using a Canon T2i (ISO 400 / 25 seconds) and a 50 mm f/1.4 lens at f/5.6. Credit and copyright: Marion Haligowski.

Our own Jason Major saw the launch from near his home in Rhode Island. “I withstood the cold (and launch delay) to capture this photo of a rising Minotaur I rocket, launched 400 miles south,” Jason said. This is a 15-second exposure.

This was a portion of the second stage flight of a Minotaur I rocket launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, seen from Conimicut Point in Warwick at around 8:17 p.m. EST on Nov. 19, 2013. Credit and copyright: Jason Major.
This was a portion of the second stage flight of a Minotaur I rocket launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, seen from Conimicut Point in Warwick at around 8:17 p.m. EST on Nov. 19, 2013. Credit and copyright: Jason Major.
ORS-3 Minotaur Launch Seen from about 150 miles away in western Louisa, VA. The diffuse moonlight nearly washed out the rocket's "trail" altogether, but fortunately it was still visible. Credit and copyright: David Murr.
ORS-3 Minotaur Launch Seen from about 150 miles away in western Louisa, VA. The diffuse moonlight nearly washed out the rocket’s “trail” altogether, but fortunately it was still visible. Credit and copyright: David Murr.

Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Twitter feed had a running commentary of the launch activities and posted this image shortly after launch:

Orbital Science Corporation posted this image on their Twitter feed of the launch as seen from the public viewing are at Wallops Flight Facility. Via Orbital.
Orbital Science Corporation posted this image on their Twitter feed of the launch as seen from the public viewing are at Wallops Flight Facility. Via Orbital.

And the launch was a topic of discussion on Twitter, too:

Here’s a short timelapse of the launch, viewed from the beach in Cape May, New Jersey. Photographer Frank Miller said that 20 minutes before the 8:15 PM launch, he photographed a meteor streaking south, which is the first “streak” you see in the video:

The next Wallops launch is an Antares rocket with a Cygnus cargo spacecraft targeted for Dec. 15-21, 2013, and as it looks now, it will again be an evening launch, so make your preparations to see it, and we’ll keep you posted on launch dates.

And if you missed the launch, here’s the replay:

How to Watch the Spectacular Minotaur Night Launch on Nov. 19 with Record Setting 29 Satellite Payload

Tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 19, tens of millions of residents up and down the US East coast have another opportunity to watch a spectacular night launch from NASA’s Wallops Island facility in Virginia – weather permitting.

See a collection of detailed visibility and trajectory viewing maps, as well as streaming video of the launch, courtesy of rocket provider Orbital Sciences and NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

And to top that off, the four stage Minotaur 1 rocket is jam packed with a record setting payload of 29 satellites headed for Earth orbit.

And if that’s not enough to pique your interest, the Virginia seaside launch will also feature the first cubesat built by high school students.

And viewing is open to the public.

Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for the US Capitol, Washington, DC.  Credit: Orbital Sciences
Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for the US Capitol, Washington, DC. Credit: Orbital Sciences

Blastoff of the Minotaur I rocket for the Department of Defense’s Operationally Responsive Space Office on the ORS-3 mission is on target for tonight, Nov. 19, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s Pad-0B at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.

The launch window for the 70 foot tall booster opens at 7:30 pm EST and extends until 9:15 pm EST.

Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Rockefeller Center N.Y.C.
Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Rockefeller Center N.Y.C.

The ORS-3 mission is a combined US Air Force and NASA endeavor that follows the flawless Nov. 18 launch of NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter from Florida by just 1 day.

However the pair of East coast launch pads are separated by some 800 miles.

Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Charleston S.C.
Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Charleston S.C.

According to NASA and Orbital Sciences, the launch may be visible along a wide swatch from northern Florida to southern Canada and well into the Midwest stretching to Indiana – if the clouds are minimal and atmospheric conditions are favorable from your particular viewing site.

The primary payload is the Space Test Program Satellite-3 (STPSat-3), an Air Force technology-demonstration mission, according to NASA.

Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Raleigh N.C.
Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Raleigh N.C.

Also loaded aboard are thirteen small cubesats being provided through NASA’s Cubesat Launch Initiative, NASA said in a statement. Among the cubesats is NASA’s Small Satellite Program PhoneSat 2 second generation smartphone mission and the first ever cubesat assembled by high schooler’s.

Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Philadelphia P.A.
Minotaur 1 launch trajectory map for Philadelphia P.A.

Locally, the NASA Visitor Center at Wallops and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/Assateague Island National Seashore will be open for viewing the launch. Visitors to Assateague need to be on the island by 6 p.m. before the entrance gate closes.

Live coverage of the launch is available via UStream beginning at 6:30 p.m. EST on launch day. Watch below:

Ken Kremer