s SpaceX and other companies usually use Vandenberg's Air Force-based launch center near Los Angeles, the region expects more glasses.…
s SpaceX and other companies usually use Vandenberg’s Air Force-based launch center near Los Angeles, the region expects more glasses.
After the sunset of October 7, many people in southern California looked up and discovered a shark’s red glare. Mara Altman was on a fundraiser on a farm outside of San Diego. A maria band played when the guests saw the rocket. “I had no idea,” she said. “People were as fascinated.”
The trumpet player put down his instrument and took out his phone to record the rocket’s flight. The singer continued to sing while watching the sky.
It is a scene that the southern California should expect to see in their clouds more often, as private-owned rocket companies expand the use of a nearby launch site.
Rocket that day, a Falcon 9 built by SpaceX, carries an Argentine satellite in space. It was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 1
40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Because SpaceX delays the pace of launch, more of its rockets will blow from the launch in California.
If you were close enough, you might also have doubled when the rocket’s booster city returned a few minutes later to Vandenberg, the first time SpaceX had achieved this achievement on the west coast. (In earlier SpaceX launched there, boosters put on a barge in the Pacific.)
In addition to producing light flames from their engines, a rocket leaves a trace of water vapor from its exhaust, forming a condensation trail – a long artificial cloud as this month was visible sometime after the rocket disappeared.
When the launch is close to sunrise or sunset – when the field is in the dark but the sky is still bright – the sunlight glides off the contrasts and adds to the glory.
Vandenberg Air Force Base served as the center for development and testing of ballistic missiles in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, larger rockets blasted with secret military satellites from there. With a stretch of open sea south of Vandenberg, the site is ideal for launching spacecraft on tracks crossing the world’s poles.
In the 1980s, the west coast was set to observe space ferries, originally intended to take over the launch of military satellites in addition to their NASA missions. The Air Force spent billions preparing a starting point, and the prototype Enterprise Orbiter made a trip there to test the facilities. But after the loss of the challenger in 1986, the Air Force decided that traditional crewless rockets were better and safer, and no shuttles ever launched from Vandenberg.
Over the last few years, commercial companies have taken over some of the launch pads. SpaceX leased Launch Complex 4, previously used for Air Force Atlas and Titan Rockets. The company launched the first Falcon 9 from Vandenberg 2013. SpaceX later rented a second place for landing its reusable boosters.
There have been 11 launches so far this year from Vandenberg, five of them by SpaceX. For decades, the number of launches has actually dropped, from more than 900 in the 1960s to 79 so far this decade. But the rate has picked up. With almost three months left in 2018, SpaceX has already launched as many rockets as they did in 2017.
In addition to SpaceX, the United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Harris, Leasing spaces at Vandenberg are from Air Force. Firefly Aerospace plans to command another Vandenberg launchpad for future commercial endeavors.
But even the most dramatic displays can lose their shine with repeated viewing. Altman will probably not go out of her way to see another rocket go.
“It was cool,” she said. “It also looked like two headlights that differ.”