I used to work in the space field when I was the operations administrator in Satellite Acquisition Services at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing in the late-1990s. While I programmed various low-Earth orbit satellites to take pictures of the Earth, I never had the opportunity to see a launch in person. On Wednesday, however, that changed.
A new GPS satellite was scheduled for launch from SLC-37B at the Kennedy Space Center atop a Delta IV rocket at 2:36pm this past Wednesday. I’d been tracking updates about the launch for about a month, and everything was looking good for it to keep its launch window. The Kennedy Space Center is about 2 hours north of where I’m visiting my parents, so a daytime launch would make for a perfect day trip. I researched various viewing locations, including some you could pay for access to at KSC, and settled on one informally known at “LISATS point” (advertised as N28.4057045, W80.6400223, but we found them a couple of hundred metres west at N28.40553, W80.64307), located below one of the bridges over the Banana River near the State Route 401 exit of SR-528 (see map), about 10 miles south of SLC-37B.
LISATS point is where a local amateur radio group operates the Launch Information Service and Amateur Television System sets up a display and broadcasts the audio feed from launch control over a PA system. They also hand out “I was there” certificates to people who watch the launch from there.
Not knowing how busy the viewing location would be, we arrived about 3 hours ahead of schedule and found just one other person who had arrived before us. Shortly after we arrived, the LISATS people arrived. I introduced myself and helped them set up their gear. I scoped of a good vantage point to photograph the launch from and then passed the time talking to one of the hams (Roy W6QCM). He was a retired military intelligence chap who had traveled all over the world during the war, mostly by submarine.
By about half an hour before launch, lots more people had arrived, so I made sure all my cameras were set up and took up my shooting location.
The launch itself was very impressive. The countdown hit 0 and basically there was a bright flash of light on the horizon that almost immediately disappeared into the smoke and fog layer, only to reappear a second or two later. it continued to gain altitude, leaving an impressive plume of smoke and eventually turned towards the east, where the two solid rocket motors separated and it continued on its way to space. About 45 seconds after ignition, the roar of the rocket motors could be heard.
A couple of other pictures from the launch:
And saving the best for last:
I also had my GoPro with me: