April 22, 2018

Falcon 9 launch lights up Southern California sky

Take a look back at the Dec. 22 liftoff of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a launch that was visible across Southern California and as far away as Arizona as the booster climbed into sunlight at dusk to deliver 10 commercial Iridium communications satellites to orbit.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket blasted off from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4-East at 5:27 p.m. PST Dec. 22 (8:27 p.m. EST; 0127 GMT), heading south over the Pacific Ocean on a trajectory roughly parallel to the Southern California coastline.

Launch occurred shortly after sunset, and the Falcon 9’s expanding exhaust plume caught beams of sunlight as it soared above the stratosphere.

Spectacular images shared by Spaceflight Now readers showed the rocket’s first stage firing cold gas nitrogen thrusters and reigniting its engines shortly after detaching from the Falcon 9’s upper stage. The first stage, on its second flight after being refurbished following a launch earlier this year, made a controlled descent back to the Pacific Ocean, but SpaceX did not plan to recover the booster on the Dec. 21 mission.

The Falcon 9’s aerodynamic nose cone split open and fell away in two pieces shortly after the mission’s three-minute point, and control thrusters on the fairing were also visible pulsing to position the pieces for re-entry. SpaceX is experimenting with recovering the Falcon 9’s fairing off shore for reuse, as the company does with its Falcon 9 first stages.

The unique twilight lighting effect dazzled skywatchers and those not expecting the launch alike.

These photos included images released by SpaceX and provided to Spaceflight Now by photographer Gene Blevins of the LA Daily News and our readers.

Credit: SpaceX
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
Credit: SpaceX
Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
This long exposure photo was captured from a viewpoint at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: SpaceX
This long exposure photo was captured from a viewpoint near Los Angeles International Airport. Credit: SpaceX
This long exposure photo was captured from a viewpoint at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Credit: SpaceX
This view of the Falcon 9’s launch was captured by Twitter user @medic2216 from Peoria, Arizona.
This photo of the Falcon 9 launch was captured during the second stage burn from Gila Bend, Arizona, by Twitter user @bperlow21.

This photo of the Falcon 9 launch during its second stage burn was captured by Twitter user @jgriffi5 from Los Angeles.
This photo of the Falcon 9 launch was captured by Twitter user @brisprad from Torrance, California.
This photo provided by Twitter user @jeffwilsontech in Los Angeles shows the Falcon 9’s second stage (left) firing to place 10 satellites into orbit, and the first stage (right) descending back to the Pacific Ocean. The moon is also visible.
This view of the Falcon 9 launch comes from Twitter user at @rcrain in Phoenix.

This view from Los Angeles provided by Twitter user @christophernie captures part of the first stage’s “boost-back” burn as the second stage (left) climbs into orbit.
This photo comes from Twitter user @soccerjo13 in Goleta, California.
This zoomed-in view of the Falcon 9’s second stage, first stage and the moon comes from Twitter user @ddaugherty in Marina del Rey, California.
This view of the Falcon 9 heading downrange comes from Twitter user @tacticalskyguy on California’s Central Coast.
This long-distance view of the Falcon 9’s second stage engine burn comes from Twitter user @rpnixon in Mesa, Arizona.
This view comes from Lakeside, California, and Twitter user @krkimmich.
This long exposure photo from Twitter user @emmerichtl in Oxnard, California, shows the Falcon 9 streaking downrange over the Channel Islands.
This view from photographer Gene Blevins at Vandenberg Air Force Base shows the Falcon 9’s first stage descending back to the Pacific Ocean for a controlled splashdown. Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News

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