Rocket launch visible at 7:30 tonight

November 19, 2013 • 12:39 pm

Reader Chris has called my attention to a post on, noting that a rocket will be launched at 7:30 tonight by NASA and the Air Force.

Much of the U.S. East Coast is expected to get a view of a mid-Atlantic rocket launch tonight, when the Air Force and NASA will try to put 29 tiny satellites into orbit, including a smartphone and a satellite built by students.

The launch of the privately built Minotaur rocket is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. from NASA’s Wallops Island, Va., launch site. Weather permitting, it should be possible to see it from Jacksonville to Maine and Montreal and as far west as Detroit and Dayton. (View a launch-visibility map here.) [JAC: I’ve put it below.]

The Orbital Sciences Corp. rocket is launching as an Air Force test program, carrying small satellites. One is an ordinary smartphone NASA converted and another was built by students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria.

Now I don’t know why they’re orbiting a smartphone, or what a launched rocket even looks like in the sky (sadly, I’m just out of in the viewing range), but you’ll be able to see it if you live in the area below (click to enlarge):

Picture 2

28 thoughts on “Rocket launch visible at 7:30 tonight

  1. I’ll have a look tonight. I’ve seen the LADEE launch up close (traveled to Wallops), and saw the day launch after that (a space station mission) as well from the DC area. It’s pretty cool to see.

    The following link has some information on the payloads. The smartphone to be launched is a little more complicated than just that; it is to demonstrate that smartphones can perform basic satellite control functions (PhoneSat 2.4).

  2. Cool! But I’m a little bit skeptical about that ‘visibility range’. I live/work about 40 miles from Cape Canaveral, and regularly see rocket launches. (Saw one yesterday: Maven, sent on its way to Mars .. well, I HEARD it .. too much cloud cover to actually see it).

    This one is a fairly small rocket (converted intercontinental ballistic missile) sent up when it’s dark. All you can see is the exhaust flame. At T+120 (2 minutes into the launch), there’s pretty little light left to see! Especially if you don’t know where to look exactly.

    But I hope people see it!

    1. We are in the DC metro area and we saw it. However, it pretty much looked like a plane; moving slowly across the sky and blinking. Couldn’t see a tail or anything.

      1. Yeah, it should look like a slowly moving star. I was too far away & it would’ve been too low on the horizon for my location. The moon was really bright in the south-east as well; I considered cursing it, but my name is Diana, so….

    2. Yeah, I agree. That visibility range seems really optimistic.

      But, I’ve always found night launches easier to spot, even though the contrail is less visible.

      Night launches are really spectacular up close. I watched the first STS night lauch from as close as you could get. I’d seen many launches of various types, but this was on a whole other level. The shuttle on its pad, the only bit of light in an otherwise very dark scene, looking rather small in the distance. At ignition the light from the engines expanded radially from the pad across the horizon in both directions, and up, and continued to brighten far past what seemed possible. It really looked just like the sun coming up over the horizon. So much so that it seemed surprising, and odd, how dark it got once the shuttle was well off the pad. It apparently tricked the fish in the area as well. Fish started jumping all over the place as the sky lit up, like something out of a Stephen King story.

      The only more thrilling lauch for me was the first STS launch. We were outside, and closer than the launch control building. After that first launch they decided not to allow viewing from that close anymore. The most awesome aspect of that experience was the sound. It is hard to describe adequately. It overloaded your senses. Your internal organs vibrated and caused you to feel very odd. Some people felt a bit sick. It was so loud that your clothes were visibly vibrating. Or maybe it was your eyeballs. I had an Olympus OM-2 with a 200 mm lens set up on a tripod with a fresh roll of film, ready to go at ignition. I started shooting, manually, when the igniters started, a few seconds before ignition, and by the time the shuttle cleared the tower I had already gone through all 36 frames.

  3. PhoneSat ‘skunkworks’ using a SmartPhone

    Taken from the above link [go to link for more detail]:-

    The PhoneSat ‘skunkworks’ activity aims to remove cost as a barrier to entry for participating in space activities, with the goal of allowing anyone with space ambitions to launch their own satellite. The DIY satellite activity uses a commercial grade Android mobile phone and the open source Android platform, in conjunction with other commercial off the shelf (COTS) components.


    The project has incorporated the Silicon Valley ‘release early, release often’ mentality. This applies at several levels. At a system level, the entire architecture is evolving with time to (a) add new functionality to the satellite with succeeding iterations and (b) incorporate the latest and greatest COTS hardware. Ideally the goal would be to have a launch of a new satellite every 3-6 months. At a micro level, the team plans and executes rapid technology evolution with weekly targets and problem solving.

    1. Anybody see anything? I didn’t have a great view of the horizon and didn’t see anything (except the spaceship abducting the old guy down the street – that was a little unusual).

      1. We saw it within seconds of launch, but we are in Maryland. After about 90 seconds we lost it in low clouds. Very cool.

        1. Yes, the flight was at 8:14. I booted up the NASA TV channel that Jerry linked to, waited until the countdown reached 1 minute, then went outside and looked south.

          It was pretty clearly visible but as I said above, to the naked eye it looked like a plane.

          1. If you ever observe ISS, it is unmistakable because of its orbit & brightness then the fizzle into earth shadow. I use this site to know when it will be in my location & it’s visibility level.

            1. About 170 road miles, according to mapquest. But the Chesapeake Bay is in the way, so it could easily be 30% less as the crow flies.

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