Remarkably, Space Coast launches can be viewed from many locations in Lake Nona. And, on a crystal-clear night, it can be an astounding sight. On March 14, the conditions were just right for such an unobscured perspective. SpaceX, a launch service provider, successfully delivered another 60 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) using one of their flight-proven boosters. The powerful Falcon 9 rocket lofted the 15,600-kg. (approximately 34,000-lb.) payload into the night sky at 6:01 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday morning. It was the company’s 22nd Starlink mission. Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite internet constellation that is designed to provide a fast, reliable, and inexpensive internet connection to underserved parts of the world. With these missions being internal, SpaceX is able to push the limits of their flight hardware. This flight was the first time a Falcon 9 booster had been reused for an astonishing ninth time! The booster, designated B1051, performed a perfect landing on a barge called “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY) 633 kilometers (approximately 390 miles) out in the Atlantic Ocean – at T+00:08:26.
It can be as easy as stepping out your front door to witness a launch, yet it takes a lot more careful planning to capture what launch photographers call a “streak shot.” These types of images are long exposures of rocket launches that are generally captured at night. In terms of camera gear, Emerson and I both utilized Nikon DSLRs and wide-angle lenses. Emerson’s photo was taken just north of Boxi Park, facing the iconic Pink Tree and Nemours Children’s Hospital. The subject of her photo is one of the fun sculptures along the path that leads to Boxi Park. My photo was taken facing Tavistock Lakes Boulevard and Benavente Avenue. The water was remarkably calm and thus allowed the scenery and launch streak to reflect along the horizon. Three major components of the launch were captured in this image: the first stage burn, second stage burn, and entry burn. The entry burn is designed to decelerate the returning booster just enough so that it does not burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. It is visible to the left of the image near the horizon.
There are many reasons to be excited about spaceflight in Florida. Crew missions returned just last year with the historic NASA/SpaceX Demo-2 launch, which sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, there was another crew launched (Crew-1), and now, Crew-2 is tentatively set to lift off sometime in mid-to-late April. The Crew-2 mission will be launching astronauts Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Megan McArthur (NASA), Akihiko Hoshide (JAXA), and Thomas Pesquet (ESA) to the ISS. In addition to crewed missions, SpaceX is also planning to launch two Falcon Heavy vehicles this year. Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9s strapped together. It is the most powerful operational rocket in the world and is capable of simultaneously landing its two side boosters at Cape Canaveral. When they come back to land, six thunderous sonic booms can be heard and felt – a truly exhilarating experience!
We will be here to cover all of these exciting missions, and we hope that you will be able to catch some as well! Let us know where you’d like for us to photograph the next launch in Nonahood. We’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!
Photos by Emerson & Ethan Walsh