Rocketcams offer dazzling views of Atlas 5 launch
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: February 26, 2012
When the largest and most powerful Atlas rocket in history thundered to space Friday, three onboard video cameras captured the stunning views of what it's like to ride the vehicle off the launch pad and into orbit.
Check out these amazing videos of the launch, which are presented here for Spaceflight Now+Plus users with the live liftoff audio. (Subscriptions are the only source of income that keep this website alive)
A third camera was affixed to the Centaur with an ideal view of the RL10 engine burning while looking back at Earth.
It was the 105th mission for Ecliptic's "rocketcam" program, including 96 rocket launches and 9 aboard satellites. The cameras were used throughout the final phase of the space shuttle program and others are orbiting the Moon today on NASA's twin GRAIL spacecraft to image the lunar surface as part of an educational project with Sally Ride.
The footage of Friday's launch begins with the Earth-facing camera on the first stage showing the launch pad water deluge system activating to flood the site for sound-dampening as the RD-180 main engine roars to life, shaking off layers of ice from the liquid oxygen tank. The Aerojet solid boosters then light, propelling the giant 206-foot-tall rocket off the mobile launching platform in scant seconds.
A roll maneuver and pitchover is commanded to position the rocket in the correct orientation for its flight downrange over the Atlantic Ocean atop two-and-a-half-million pounds of thrust.
Just over three minutes into the launch, the space-facing camera witnessed the bulbous nose cone that shrouded the Navy satellite payload during ascent through the atmosphere separating to fall away.
That same camera, a minute later, showed the Centaur flying free from the core stage and igniting for the first of three planned firings to heave the 15,000-pound spacecraft into the proper orbit.
A switch to Centaur's aft-facing camera then occurred to provide a dramatic movie of what riding the venerable upper stage is like as the vehicle flew into a beautiful sunset over the Central Atlantic while accelerating to orbital velocity.
The rock-steady stage and its dependable Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10 fired for eight minutes to achieve a parking orbit around Earth of 90 by 337 nautical miles high, tiled 28 degrees to the equator.
It was the 200th launch of a Centaur dating back 50 years.
At that point in the flight, the video was finished. But the Centaur would go on to perform two more burns and successfully deploy the MUOS 1 satellite three hours after liftoff.
See a rocketcam photo gallery from the launch.
MISSION STATUS CENTER