Space and astronomy news and information for the American Southwest. Coverage includes Vandenberg AFB rocket and missile launches.

Vandenberg AFB Launch Observations

2007 April 30

The following is a listing of Vandenberg AFB rocket and missile launch observations. The information is organized by the launch followed by the observer and the location from which he or she saw the event. The observations were sent directly to the webmaster or originally posted to the See-Sat Internet mailing list and reprinted with permission.

Pegasus XL / TRACE

Launched 1998 April 1 18:42 PST (dusk)

Brian Webb
Broadcast Hill, Santa Barbara, California

The following account was originally posted to the See-Sat mailing list.

"On Wednesday evening I was fortunate to have a nearly unobstructed view of the Pegasus/TRACE launch off of California's central coast. I also took several very good photos. A great evening!

I left my office in Camarillo at 15:40 PST and began driving towards Santa Barbara (about 55 minutes away). While enroute, I called a weather forecaster on my cell phone and got an update on the weather. It was mostly clear at Vandenberg and the clouds were moving northwest to southeast. I was advised to stay away from the high mountains above Santa Barbara and get near the beach.

When I got to Santa Barbara, the mountains were indeed shrouded by clouds. From the highway I spotted a very high hill to the west and began heading towards it.

I got to the top of the hill and found a good observation/photo point. At first it was quite cloudy. Over time, it began to clear. When the launch window openned, the west was almost totally clear.

The launch window openned, and we saw nothing. Launch time came and went and we saw nothing. About two minutes before the end of the window, I got ready to carry my gear back to the car.

My friend Elaine then yelled "There it is!" Low on the northwest horizon, a very bright contrail appeared. It was the Pegasus, and it was moving fast, much faster that a Delta II or other vehicle.

As it climbed, the contrail began to spread out to form a plume. At the very front was a tiny, bright light source.

We observed stage 2/3 separation and watched the third stage keep going. The third stage had a smaller, wedge-shaped exhaust plume.

Then the third stage went out. Meanwhile, high altitude winds had already begun to twist the contrail. The top part of the trail had colored fringes (weakly irridescent).

I quickly drove back to Thousand Oaks and walked into the photo lab at 20:05. The techs were getting ready to shut things down, but agrred to process my film.

Forty minutes later I held my breath and looked at the prints. Beautiful! I was rewarded with several interesting high quality photos*.

A great launch!!!...

*Photo set-up was a 135mm lens, tripod, Fujicolor 800. Exposures were 1/30th sec at f/4."

Delta II / Aqua

Launched 2002 May 4 02:55 PDT

David Thomas
Long Beach, California

"I just witnessed the Delta II/Aqua launch from my home in Long Beach. I first saw the bright orange flame in the northeast sky traveling almost vertically. It took a noticeably sharp turn towards the south and continued up in altitude. It became remarkably (and unexpectedly) brighter as it rose above the nasty "light pollution zone". I followed it with my 10x50 binoculars for what seemed to be about three or four minutes. During this time I saw the flame change from a long thin shape to a short wide fan shape. It then disappeared. A few seconds later, I saw a very small orange dot for about ten seconds."

Brian Webb
Ventura County, California

The evening before the launch I was in my back yard using my 8-inch, f/8 telescope. The sky was clear, but the forecast called for late night and early morning clouds. I decided to leave my telescope outside and attempt to use it to view the launch the next morning.

At 02:35 I got up, quickly dressed, and took my 10x70 binoculars and telescope accessories outside. The sky was clear, but it wasn't that dark due to a very thin layer of high clouds reflecting the light pollution from Los Angeles. I uncapped the optics on my telescope, inserted a 25mm eyepiece, and focused the image in anticpation of the launch.

I began scanning the western horizon and checking my watch. Suddenly, a very bright orange light appeared from behind some distant trees. Through the binoculars I could clearly see the long flame from the strap-on solid rocket motors.

I ran over and aimed my telescope of the Delta. At 65X the vehicle traversed the field of view in about 3 seconds. I could see the long flame from the solid rocket motors. The solid motors burned out and were jettisoned. Through the eyepiece I could see two of them trailing behind the Delta. They were two red specks that quickly faded.

With the solid rocket motors jettisoned, the Delta II was now being powered solely by its first stage's liquid fuel rocket engine. Through the telescope, I watched as the first stage exhaust plume gradually increased in size as the vehicle gained altitude.

At its maximum development, the first stage engine's plume took up 8/10 of the telescope's field of view. I could see an orange speck (the first stage engine) spraying curved lines - both thick and thin - of light that formed a hemispheical plume.

Near the engine, the lines were blue-green in color. Further away the lines were fainter and white in color. What was really interesting was the motion visible in the plume. Within each line of the plume, there were numerous areas that were brighter than others. I could see these bright areas exit the engine and rapidly travel down the lines and disappear. It was very much like looking at the water droplets spraying from a sprinkler.

The engine suddenly cut off and the plume disappeared. The orange speck of the engine grew much dimmer and was followed by a small, dim haze. This lasted for about five seconds until the orange speck and the haze completely disappeared.

Minuteman III / Glory Trip 179GM

Launched 2002 June 7 01:24 PDT

Jay McKee
East Camino Cielo, Santa Barbara County, California

"[Friday] morning's Minuteman III launch was spectacular!

I decided that I would take a drive up to East Camino Cielo (north of Santa Barbara) to view the launch. At 3,000 feet altitude, the water cistern location offered a good chance of getting above the weather. I left my house in Camarillo at 11:00 p.m. and arrived at the water cistern at 12:10 a.m. Low clouds and fog seemed to be limited to 1500 feet along the coast. Cold and damp near the coast and my guess on the temperature there was high 50s. I had taken my jacket, but it turned out to be T-shirt weather at the viewing site. At the water cistern it was easily 70 degrees with a light, dry breeze blowing from the north-northeast. I could see lights from the Buellton/Solvang/Santa Ynez area off in the distance, and evidence of low clouds/fog further west. From the time I left the house to the time I returned home at 3:30 a.m., I did not see any evidence of the Moon...it was incredibly dark! Visibility to the horizon in all directions was unlimited. No top cloud cover or clouds of any kind were detected.

It was impossible to miss the Milky Way. It spanned the sky from north of me to the southeast.

At [1:23} a.m. the fog and low clouds over the launch site erupted in a deep orange glow immediately followed by the missile, accelerating out of the fog on an intensely bright orange flame. First stage burnout and separation appeared normal, with the spent first stage tumbling as it fell, producing a "strobe" effect as the tailpipe came into and out of of view as it tumbled.

Near the middle of the second stage burn, a thin, blue trail appeared in the sky behind the missile. I was surprised to see this at such a late hour, thinking that the blue glow from the last modified Minuteman II I saw was due to the twilight effect. Now I see it is a luminescent effect."

Minuteman III / Glory Trip 180GM

Launched 2002 September 19 19:31 PDT (dusk)

Brian Webb
Vandenberg AFB

At Vandenberg, a very low could layer hugged the coastline and extended inland no more than a mile. At liftoff the Minuteman popped out of the coulds and climbed steeply towards the west. A minute or so later the exhaust behind the vehicle turned a deep orange - a sign that the missile was climbing into the sunlight. The exhaust began to expand and changed to a milky blue-white color.

The exhaust eventually formed a large disk with a bright point of light (the missile) in the center. Inside the disk were flower petal-like structures radiating away from the missile. Suddenly the point of light went out and the bubble began to dissipate.

Peacekeeper / Glory Trip 32PA

Launched 2003 March 12 01:29 PST

Brian Webb
East Camino Cielo, Santa Barabara County, California

Two friends and I met in the mountains north of Santa Barbara to view and photograph the GT-32PA Peacekeeper launch. Our location was at an altitude of more than 3,000 feet and offered a virtually unobstructed view of the missile silo 51 statute miles (82 km) to the west-northwest.

The sky was clear with some high altitude clouds that covered no more than 25% of the sky. There also appeared to be a very thin layer of high clouds covering the entire sky. Off in the distance I could see that the launch site was under a layer of low clouds or thick haze.

The launch was scheduled for 00:01:00 PST (one minute past midnight). However, a few minutes before launch the countdown was placed into an unplanned hold because a ship was heading toward a restricted ocean area adjacent to Vandenberg.

After more than one hour, the range safety problem was resolved and the count resumed with a new launch time of 01:29:00 PST. The final moments went by quickly. I opened the shutters on my cameras and we all watched the west-northwest horizon. At T-0 we didn't see anything. A second later, the sky suddenly lit up with a bright yellow light.

After a few seconds, the Peacekeeper emerged from the haze. It looked like a bright yellow spot of light. It was much brighter than Venus, perhaps magnitude -8 or more.

The missile climbed fairly quickly and headed west. Stage 1/2 separation occurred on-time at T+ 1m 00s. We could see the faint flashing from the spent first stage as it tumbled end over end.

At the start of the second stage burn, the Peacekeeper still looked like a yellow spot of light, but it began to develop a tail. This thin, faint flame was similar in appearance to that of a propane torch.

At about T+ 2m 00s, we saw a puff of smoke that signaled stage 2/3 separation. The vehicle was much fainter during the third stage burn. It was also motionless, probably due to the fact it was so far away by this time. It resembled a faint orange star.

Less than a minute after it ignited, the third stage shut down. However, it was hard to tell exactly this happened because the light from the third stage gradually faded instead of disappearing abruptly. At T+ 3m 20s it appeared to be gone.

At T+ 4m 04s the rumble from the launch reached us. It was suprisingly loud. We listened to the distant rumble and enjoyed the sound. After about 15 seconds it was inaudible.

Minuteman III / Glory Trip 189GM/ALCS

Launched 2005 September 14 01:01 PDT

Jay McKee
Camarillo, California

"I saw the Minuteman III launch from my backyard. The weather was unusually clear and the launch was spectacular. I picked up the missile rising from behind my next-door neighbor's rooftop, about 7 seconds prior to first stage burnout & separation. In past Minuteman III shots I don't recall seeing the *second* stage burning and tumbling as it fell away after separation. The first stage is always obvious, but I don't remember seeing anything but a puff/explosion from previous second stage separations. The Moon being only days away from being full illuminated the smoke trail nicely during the second stage burn. The smoke trail from the tumbling/falling second stage was quite noticeable as it departed course from the ascending third stage and dummy warhead. I was alternating my view between naked eyes and a set of 10x50s during most of the missile's climb and into the third stage burn. Using my naked eyes only, I watched what I believe was third stage burnout. I had expected to see it fade away slowly but instead it just shut off like someone threw a light switch. Once second it was fairly bright and then the next, poof! it was gone. Beautiful!"

Lynn Tobias
Fountain Valley, California

"Visible from Fountain Valley, CA ... with some attenuation due to coastal haze. First ~1 minute obscured by trees (viewed from daughter's bedroom), disappeared at ~01:04:15+-:05 through 7x binoculars.

Only appeared as a point during this time with no indication of an extended plume as on some other launches. I'm slightly uncertain if I've seen extended plumes on MM above the trees, but with better seeing. The extended plumes may have been visible from other launch vehicles (e.g. Deltas with "air-lit" solids to more southerly polar orbits) or from my roof which affords visibility closer to the horizon (but annoys my wife when I'm climbing in and out of our bedroom window in the middle of the night!)"

Don Macholz
Colfax, California

"I saw it this morning from Colfax, CA, about 50 miles north of Sacramento, CA, too."

Tim Tyler
San Mateo, California

"Clearly visible in the western sky starting at about 1:03AM & lasting for about a minute in San Mateo, CA (about 30 miles N of San Jose/20 miles S of the Golden Gate Bridge).

Way cool!"

Brian Vanderkolk
Stanton, California

"I also observed the launch from Stanton, north OC. Bright orange dot moving slowly upward and to the left from my WNW horizon."

Robin Wier
Phoenix, Arizona

"At ~01:01:30 MST, I called 805-606- ... and got the VAFB guy. I asked him if he could confirm a successful launch. Before he could answer, I exclaimed "I see it, no doubt about it." He said he was watching the launch on a "tele-monitor" (sp).

I asked him if I should hang up, and he said no. I called the fade to dark at ~01:03 (wild guess). He confirmed based on his monitor.

I was using 15x70 binos. Only the flame was visible, and it was about the size of Jupiter (or a little larger), and was a little more orange colored than Mars. Weak magnitude, as it was not visible 1x (bad eyes).

This is my third or fourth successful observation of a non-twilight launch from here in Phoenix."

Titan IV / B-26

Launched 2005 October 19 11:05 PDT

Jay Lawson
Sparks, Nevada

Initial report:

"We were able to see part of the launch today from Sparks Nevada. It takes about 1 minute 20, to 1 minute 30 seconds after launch for the rockets to clear the horizon here, so the time at first sighting was about 11:06:20. Due to the daytime launch and some light haze we did not get a clear view.

We saw and videotaped the rocket's trail on ascent. It did not reach as high in the sky as the previous Minotaur launch. The maximum altitude we could see it was probably only about 10 degrees. The videotape only shows about 1 or two seconds of the flight due to the difficulty in seeing the trail in the finder. I lost it quickly and was zoomed in too much.

We did not have binoculars or any other optical aid, so with the naked eye we could not see much. One observer thought he may have seen a puff at about the time the stage one ignition or the SRB separation occured.

But, we did see it!!"

Follow-up comments:

"I could have been more specific on location.
Sparks, Nevada, Washoe County
39d 32' 09" N, 119d 42' 11.5" W"

Rod Simonian
Three Rivers, California

"I did see it due South of me about 100 miles.
climb high Just before it disappeared I saw something that may have been
booster separation. Little orange color then gone"

David Thomas
Lompoc, California

"I just arrive back home after driving out to Vandenberg AFB this morning. My daughter and I observed the Titan IV launch from the farming road near the South Vandenberg gate. I can't believe how close it is to the launch pad! It was awesome. When I first saw the rocket clear the hill, between us and the launch pad, it was already climbing at a fairly high rate of speed. It took a few seconds for me to find it in the viewfinder of my Canon 35mm SLR. I had a 600mm F/8 telephoto lens on a tripod and with my nifty motor drive I was able to snap a few frames in short order. This time I stopped with the camera early and switched to the 10x50 binoculars. I was able to get some very memorable visuals with the binoculars unlike my last Titan IV viewing when I was taking pictures the entire launch (and none were exposed due to a malfunctioning mirror in the camera.) The flame from the rocket was extremely bright (like the setting sun) but it was too mesmerizing to avoid looking. It was especially interesting the way the bright flame gradually fades in brightness into an eerie glow that then turns into the white contrail. Through the binoculars, I was able to see the boosters separate and begin tumbling as well as the first stage burning as the rocket continued climbing. I always thought that the boosters simply start falling towards the ocean but they didn't and I realized that they are still traveling upward at a high rate of speed so they also continue climbing even though they have already separated. It as was amazing to see them tumbling upwards. I was able to see the first stage firing for at least a full minute after the boosters separated but they soon disappeared as did the boosters. As it was at my last observation, I could hear the echoes bouncing off of distant mountains for several minutes after the rocket was long gone. What a rush! I don't think the newer Delta IV or Atlas 5 will be able to match the Titan IV for viewing purposes."

Turk Turley
Mariposa, California

"Wife, daughter and myself saw it from our deck 250 Statute Miles away from above Mariposa, CA, just off HWY on the way to Yosemite National Park. But, we only saw and tried to photograph the con trail the missile made. Did not see the missile itself, nor any ice crystals in the upper thin cloud deck; around 40K feet. Our house is located at 2700' above MSL."

Todd Walker
Union Sugar Road, Lompoc, California

"Wow! This was one day I was actually glad to be a taxpayer! My Love and I parked at the North end of Union Sugar Road on the bank of the Santa Ynez river next to an immense field of artichokes, just under three miles from the launch pad. We could see the top 30 feet of the mobile service tower and the nose cone of the rocket through a grove of trees. We were close enough to get seriously injured if they needed to destroy the rocket shortly after launch. The weather was perfect with only a few alto-nimbus clouds floating by.

Liftoff occurs, the last of the Titans slowly lift up past the trees and comes into full view. Through binoculars we could see the lettering on the rocket. The flame was so very very bright, it burned an image in my cornea that lasted for at least 20 minutes. The length of the flame was 3 or 4 times the length of the rocket itself. It only took a few seconds before the sound hit us. It started off as a loud low roar building into a thunderous clapping earth-shaking mind-blowing sound that will never be forgotten. The rocket turned to the South and pointed it's engines almost directly at our location. You could actually feel the sound pressing against your skin and jostling your internal organs. When booster separation occurred, we could see both boosters tumbling down along with a mysterious 3rd piece of hardware we didn't expect to see. Everything faded into the sky except the wondrous contrail that looked like a 10 mile high thunderhead. We could still hear the rumble and crackle of the engines until 11:11, some 7 minutes after liftoff.

Inside tip for readers!: While we were driving back into Lompoc to get fuel, we came across a film crew with the biggest camera I have ever seen. There was tons of equipment including a generator to run it all. I stopped and asked where we could view the footage. The gentleman told me it's to be included in an upcoming pilot (working title "Space") on the Fox Network to be aired sometime between Spring and next Fall!"

Minuteman III / SERV#3

Launched 2006 February 16 00:01 PST

Tom Gerald
Vandenberg Village, California

"Yes, I had actually forgotten and fallen asleep. I live in Vandenberg Village and the rumble awoke me, so I dashed out to find the sky perfectly clear. There was a curled bit of ghostly smoke trail, like aflattened "C," clearly visible in the sky; then I moved past some trees and saw the orange spot of light racing westward. In rushing from the bed, I had not grabbed my binoculars, but was still able to observe staging, a sudden brightening of the otherwise steady glow. Within a few seconds, however, the speck of light dimmed and was gone from sight.
One thing, there seemed to be an observer craft nearby, moving slowly to the west. Could have been a non-associated flight, but appreared to be very close to the launch scene."

Tony Lazar
San Carlos, California

"Observed the Minuteman launch last night from my deck in the San Carlos hills about 250 miles to the North. Spectacular view - very bright, long, dazzling orange-pink glow through 10x50 binoculars. The entire powered flight path was visible (except the first few seconds below the horizon). Both staging events were impressive - big puffs of whitish smoke followed by flashing lights as the boosters trailed. The end of powered flight produced a wide exhaust plume that I could follow even several seconds after engine cut-off, while the remaining engine glow flashed faintly.

The view from my vantage point seems to be just right for observing the entire show, especially the later stages to the South-West. I was too cold and lazy to set up the camera, though. Next time."

Pegasus XL / SpaceTech 5

Launched 2006 March 22 06:03 PST

Tony Lazar
San Carlos, California

"Saw the Pegasus launch quite well this morning from San Carlos in the SF Bay Area. Very nice sight with binoculars - clearly saw the white trail, the orange exhaust, and the first staging.

I had a great position - high up in the hills, facing south, and North enough that the sun was not yet up.

The L1011 and chase plane made the same spectacular circle over my deck as they did last time, when you published one of my photos. But I wasn't sufficiently awake this AM to take a good picture..."

Thom Rice
Aptos, California

"...I was able to get an excellent viewing of the 3/22 Pegasus launch off Monterey Bay. There was a light cloud layer above the horizon but the higher sky was clear except for heavy clouds to the north.
The abort mission a week earlier had full TV coverage so my wife had the TV on and was ready to cell me with the launch alert but no TV for some reason. Fortunately the launch was on it's mark by one minute. The Pegasus first appeared at high rate of speed in a near vertical climb above the cloud layer. (I believe it was a lower angle but was going away from me so appeared more vertical) It was pre-dawn by a half hour at my location but the Pegasus was in full sun and the contrail was brilliant white. With my 8X Pentax binos I was able to clearly see the rocket as a bright silver white projectile. Climbout continued as the contrail ceased and the rocket arched downrange. I was able to follow the blip of light until it clicked off for the ballistic glide prior to separation and 2nd stage ignition. Worth getting up early for."

Minotaur / Cosmic

Launched 2006 April 14 18:40 PDT

Brian Vanderkolk
Stanton, California

Initial report:

"I guess the weather didn't stop the launch of COSMIC from Vandenberg last night. With the weather system moving through I didn't even try to look for it. But I happened to be out doing some shopping around 8pm and saw that it did indeed launch."

Follow-up comments:

"It really was quite spectacular. The low clouds darkly illuminated by the city lights, the still glowing upper atmosphere, and the brightly lit exhaust trail dispersing. It looked very surreal."

Delta II / CloudSat / CALIPSO

Launched 2006 April 28 03:02 PDT

Carmelita Miranda
Fillmore, California

"I saw the really pretty launch from our backyard, next to our observatory, in Fillmore. I didn't have time to set up any camera but watched the launch with binoculars (12x50). After clearing my observable horizon, I saw a beautiful red, more crimson in color, exhaust from the rocket... very nice. I followed the rocket and saw the second stage ignite, and the "sideways" looking star-burst pattern from the ignition. Very nice but nearing the southwest horizon. I followed as far down range as far as I could see before disappearing off into the distance. I noted the time of 03:07:50. Nice launch."

Delta IV / NROL-22

Launched 2006 June 27 20:33 PDT (dusk)

Keith Cox
Kingsburg, California

"Even with light cloud cover - I was able to observe the launch last night from Kingsburg in the Central San Joaquin Valley (20 miles south of Fresno).

I did not observe any sort of vapor trail - but I did see the rockets motor flame - an Orange/red color. It seems to have been a very Southerly launch (polar orbit?)."

Dan Goldzban
San Diego, California

"We had a lovely view here in San Diego, and we noted as it proceeded south from our position that it appeared to be more than one light in the sky. It looked as if there was a light in front of the exhaust flame. I know this must be some kind of optical illusion..."

Bob Heusser
La Canada, California

"Nice view of the launch from La Canada, Calif. We are located right at the base of the San Gabriel Mts. a short distance from JPL at about 1400 feet. Lots of trees and mountains surround this location. The lift off was clearly visible in my western sky due to excellent lighting and I was able to track the launch vehicle in a darkened sky all the way eastward until it disappeared in a cloud layer to the SSE. At its apex the vehicle appeared to be approximately 45 degrees above my horizon and then drifted lower in the sky as it progressed toward the SE. All in all it was a splendid show with a beautiful sunset thrown in just prior to launch!"

Deryl Crawford
Marina del Rey, California

"Good view from Marina del Ray. Saw the contrail come up through a low cloud bank to the north west. It climbed fast. Then the contrail disappeared. Must have been SRB burn out. I could see the main engine burning and getting brighter as it curved over and heading south gaining speed. I have never seen one appear to move so fast. It moved pass and south and I was able to see the separation and ignition of the second stage. Was surprised that I could still see the second stage engine glowing for quite a while. Then it moved into a think bank of clouds way to the south and was gone."

Greg Roberts
Cape Town, South Africa

Forty minutes after launch, the Delta IV's second stage and payload rose above the horizon in South Africa. At this time the second stage was re-ignited and burned for three minutes. Following the burn, the second stage hydrogen tank was vented, creating a faint artificial comet. Amateur satellite tracker Greg Roberts recorded the venting on his low-light video system. The following is an excerpt of a report he posted to the See-Sat mailing list:

"Just observed the 2nd stage burn of the NROL-22 mission - tracked it for about 5-6 minutes before it moved behind local buildings. Fantastic sight with a broad cone behind the rocket- could not see anything starlike - the fan was very roughly 2-3 degrees long before it faded out and probably about 1 to 1.5 degrees wide -- these are all very rough as I have still to determine the scale of the CCD camera- at the last minute I switched over to a wide angle lens."

Delta IV / DMSP F-17

Launched 2006 Novmber 4 05:53 PST

Steve Ball
Lompoc, California

"It was spectacular from my back yard in Lompoc (Mission Hills). The sky was clear and there were stars visible...it was a beautiful morning. I made a very amateurish recording of the launch but my camcorder died after the first playback....Murphy at work I guess. At any rate, it was one of the best looking launches we've had, and I noticed this launch rattled my house a lot harder than the last Delta IV. I haven't studied it but I wonder if this Delta IV was using the same boosters, etc as the last one, because this time I never saw the boosters separate and fall back like they usually do. It could have been because I was spending so much time fooling around with the stupid camcorder and I may have missed it.....I only know enough about it to be dangerous."

Eric Behnke
Simi Valley, California

"Clear sky, moderate breeze over Simi Valley allowed for good observation. Bright rocket engine observed with white exhaust trail until about 10-15 deg over horizon. Single white cloud (stage separation?) left an interesting "X" shaped cloud. About 30 seconds after, the upper atmosphere spectacular expansive nozzle shower pattern was seen. No audible effects of rocket due to wind."

Gary Dalton
Jalama Beach, Santa Barbara County, California

Intital report:

"Was able to park on a turn-out on Jalama Rd. a few hundred yards above Jalama Beach and see the launch from SLC-6 in perfect conditions. Rumor was that the Highway Patrol was going to close the road and that the AF was to have the camp area evacuated. Not so.

Funny thing was, most of the campers at Jalama beach were there to surf or get sleep and seemed to have no knowledge of what was about to happen."

Follow-up comments:

"There were a few very small remnants of fog surrounding the hillside just above the SLC-6 area at 5:52am. Otherwise, there was nothing but clear sky between us and the pad. One minute later everything started to change. AT T +0-3 seconds the sky lit up all around SLC-6 with a reddish and white flare, and the sound followed about 2-3 seconds later. The rocket's roar was loud enough to shake the ground for about 15 to 20 seconds. It was an impressive dislpay of sight and sound.
We essentially only missed about 5-8 seconds of initial lift-off due to the small hill obscuring the pad from our view. As the Delta IV climbed, the color of the flame was a distinct grapefruit/reddish color, about 100 to 150 feet long. This remained throughout the entire first stage burn. We were not able to make out the actual shape or size of the Delta IV because in the morning light, and from our vantage point, the flame was dominant.
Our vantage point gave the impression that we were directly under the flight path, to the point that when stage separation occurred, it appeared that we were looking right into the tail end of the vehicle. A few minutes later we noticed two pieces of the payload housing which had separated appearing to follow along with the sattelite as if they were escorting the payload into orbit. The two objects along with the payload appeared to form a triangle, all moving along together at the same velocity.

Our 7x35 low powered binoculars allowed us to follow the launch for about 10 to 12 minutes."

Don De Caria (NF7R)
Logandale, Nevada

"Dave [K7NG], and myself observed the launch from Logandale, NV. 36 35.6 N 114 27.97 W. The only sign of the launch was a very short (2 degrees) white contrail type cloud the showed against the dark western sky. The cloud started fairly pale, reached a peak, and disappeared with about a total of 5 minutes time. If we hadn't known what we were looking for, we would have missed it. It was a good observation for a couple of science geeks, but I'm glad I didn't waken the neighbors to view it!"

John Hardin
Santa Paula, California

"My wife and I along with our good friend, Reg, watched the launch from Santa Paula Airport in Santa Paula, Ca this morning. We could see very well from here as the sky was very clear. It appeared to have a trail for a short time and then you could just see it without any trail. In about 1/2 of the time that we could still see it there appeared to be a halo like burst around it. Was that a stage release? As it got higher it looked like a star and just before it was no longer visible to the naked eye I thought I could see what looked like sparks emitting from it."

Colin Heatherly
Las Vegas, Nevada

Initial report:

"Saw it from Las Vegas. Wasn't much...just looked like a star ascending. Could not see any trail. Next time tell them to launch just after sunset. It's a lot better show at that time."

Follow-up comments:

"The launch happened just 14 minutes prior to our sunrise, so it was pretty light out and a little hazy. Like I said, all I could see was a pin point of light ascending with no visible trail. Wasn't much of a show, but I did get to see something."

Bruce Herrick
La Quinta, California

Initial report:

"I observed the vehicle in mid flight from La Quinta, CA (33.707 N, 116.292 W, h=23m). It appeared as a bright spot moving south in the western sky, above the Santa Rosa Mountains. As expected it was a difficult detection due to the transparent plume, lack of smoke, and rapidly brightning sky. After detecting it visually, I tracked it for about 15 seconds through an 8 X 50 mm finder scope on my 8", LX200 telescope (my intent was to collect high resolution video of a portion of the launch phase). I looked away at a monitor and lost the booster and was not able to reacquire it either visually or through the finder scope."

Follow-up comments:

"If I would have had my brain in gear I could have done much more, some timings, etc. I would estimate the brightness when I first saw it as Vm ~ -6, much brighter than Venus would have been at peak brightness in the same location and with the same sky brightness. I suspect one reason that I lost sight of it was that the brightness changed as it went from first to second stage."

Adrian Jarret
Thousand Oaks, California

"Just about woke in time to see the launch from T.O.

Just pre dawn, there were about 2 stars still visable, it rose out of the west with a very bright flame. Not much vapor, one vapor cloud left high in the SW that spread into a con trail.

There was a brief 'plume' effect as the rocket continued south west, too high an altitude to see a staging that clearly, and the plume propageted outwards too fast to be a real rocket plume. Maybe this was a shock wave as the vehicle went through a high altitude cloud layer.

Disappered off to the south-east still buring, still no trail. It looked like one long, nice, clean burn."

Andrew Kramar
Train Station, Vandenberg AFB, California

"Some friends and I watched from a hilltop 7 miles North of the launch site. The contrail in the lower atmosphere was initially straight and later fell into a spiral pattern. I figure it must be some from kind of aerodynamic effect, or the rocket's control system. Since we were directly behind the rocket, the ignition of the 2nd stage was clearly visible like a blue firework as the exhaust plume spread out. Since the fuel was only liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen (I believe) the exhaust was mostly just water vapor. When the 2nd stage exhaust plume cooled it created this super-white cloud in the upper atmosphere."

Bob Matthews
Thousand Oaks, California

"I watched from my home in Thousand Oaks; the launch was visible for about 5 minutes until out of range. The Delta appeared to pass through a high altitude moisture patch about 3 minutes in when a patch of sky lit up misty white, but that was only a few seconds in duration. A minute or two later, a somewhat larger patch of sky lit up swirly white back towards the earlier path, perhaps around the t+90 seconds region. That patch lasted about a minute before dissipating. Both were too small from my distance to produce decent photos, as was the launch itself, as the exhaust plume was only distinct for the first 30 seconds or so and not too bright."

Peter Marx
Nipomo, California

"We had perfect cloudless views all the way to what appeared to be an upper stage separation or perhaps payload separation; at that point there was two light sources visible, slowly becoming more separated from each other. I don't know if there are ever two ignition sources on the rocket at the same time or if one of these was reflected light.

I read a note about a "fuel discard burn" or some such thing, designed to destroy unused fuel on the main rocket after the payload is released, but I gather that didn't happen until 10 minutes into the flight; I don't think my observation was that late in the game, although it may have been."

Diane Meyers
Penn Valley, California

"I live in Penn Valley (an hour north of Sacramento, near Grass Valley) and could watch it with the naked eye out of my bedroom window in the Northeast sky. It became visible here about 2 minutes after I saw it launch on the web site. It was visible for about five minutes."

Nils Nehrenheim
San Pedro, California

"Saw the rocket from go up from San Pedro. Only saw a small light almost looking like an airplane going straight up, much slower than I had anticipated (much slower than the minuteman launch). Saw with binoculars the first stage burn off. Cloud/fog prevent seeing much detail of the entire launch."

Brian Neuschwander
Capitola, California

"I saw this morning's launch from Capitola, CA on the north side of Monterey Bay. The very large engine flame was very clearly visible as the rocket rose above the Ventana Mountains south east of Monterey. The flight was visible with the naked eye for a full seven minutes. The initial ascent left a faint white signature. First state separation created a dramatic white bloom which quickly disappeared. I was very surprised at how high and how westerly this flight was. Usually I can only see a flight for a few seconds and then it disappears south about 5-10 degrees above the horizon. This flight went about 35 degrees up and about 30 degrees to the west as observed from my position. Certainly this was the most dramatic launch since the dusk flights of Minuteman a few years ago."

Andy Randrup
Morro Bay, California

"The weather (fog) broke around 4 am, and I was able to see it perfectly. My impressions:

I just watched a rocket launch (Delta IV Heavy, big one!) from Vandenberg in the early sky, perfectly timed to show well in the twilight (it was just light enough so there were only two stars left out) and yet still morning enough to hit the sunlight as it made stage separation/ignition as it curved out over Morro Rock and the Pacific, making a beautiful clawed flare about five times the diameter of the full moon in a sudden blue-white burst as the liquid oxygen went off and steering nozzles blew across the spent first stage boosters. Even after the craft left the atmosphere and crossed into true space (thus no longer leaving a vapor trail) I could see the canisters following below as they slowly began their descent into the ocean to fall harmlessly onto the whales and fisherman of the Maldives, glittering in the newborn day. The huge size of this Beast made its ascent slow and easy to track, as opposed to the MinuteMan IIIs and their ilk, that zip toward our enemies, real and imagined, at unthinkable speeds, and are gone in less than two minutes. This launch was visible for at least six minutes, the second stage ignition not even taking place until 4:34 and the boosters dropping after the five minute mark. As the sun continued to rise, the trail faded, and by the time the lower section (first stage smoke) was back lit, it had dissipated for the most part, with only a strange blue-white "puff" marking the point where the second stage had ignited on its way out of the atmosphere. A faint rumbling like distant thunder was heard for about three minutes, but not until after the craft was out of sight. Not surprising, considering the immense distance from our home. The Launch Pad itself is over 80 miles as the crow flies, and the rocket went almost due South as soon as it became airborne."

Rick Rairden
Palo Alto, California

"Pre-dawn Saturday was solid overcast in the flatlands of Palo Alto, but a careful half-hour drive up Page Mill Road to Skyline Boulevard took me above the stratus just in time to get parked and watch the Delta climb in the south. After 2 or 3 minutes there was an obvious staging event, and I was able to follow the flight for another several minutes as it faded into the morning sky. Never was much of a trail, except for the small patch low on the horizon that became bright white as the rising sun's rays reached it."

John Sanford
Springville, California

"Very cool launch! That oxy/hydrogen mixture really is the way for high energy! Got good video with Sony Nightshot. The neatest thing is I was looking visually and didn't pick it up but when I glanced at the camcorder screen there was a bright pinpoint of light! Sure enough within a few seconds I did see it visually. There was a faint trail going down into the haze which was more visible in the IR. I followed it with the 10x Zeiss lens until first stage burnout and ignition of the second stage. Then watched the flame become a tiny pinpoint and at that point I ran out of tape. At that time I noticed the bright patch of vapor trail (in the sun) that was by far the brightest part of the trail and remained visible for several minutes. Too bad I couldn't record it."

Michael Schweit
Northridge, California

"The only observation I have is it amazes me how long it takes for me to see the missile from Northridge, CA. It usually takes about 45 seconds from liftoff until we see it. MECO was easy to observe as a white, clear radial puff."

Russell Shroff
Offshore California

Shroff was enroute from Alameda island (San Francisco) to San Diego aboard the ship Captain's Paradise.

Initial report:

"I was delivering a trawler down to San Diego and my position at first view of launch was
N Lat 35.52.005
W Lon 122.10.168
Time was 05:54 hours
I had clear skys and a rising sun when the glow became visible, trailed by a rust colored smoke trail it looked as if it was coming strait at me rather than gaining altitude.
The smoke stopped for a couple of seconds then much higher I saw what looked like a Square rectangle of White smoke thru which I could see a brilliant White star of flame for about twenty seconds.

I have only seen one other launch from Vandenberg a few years ago, but I always try and arrange to be offshore when I can."

Follow-up comments:

"We were buddy boating with a Krogan 50 "Whaleback" and I had told Jan to make sure she was on the 05:00 to 08:00 AM watch? she said it was the Highlight of the trip down the coast."

Brian Webb
Ventura County, California

The following account was originally posted to the See-Sat mailing list:

"I observed the Delta IV/DMSP F-17 launch this morning from Vandenberg AFB. My site was a hill in Ventura County, California* located about 95 statute miles east-southeast of the launch site.

The sky was clear, but not very dark due to the approaching sunrise. I didn't expect the launch to occur today because of the pessimistic launch weather forecast issued yesterday. At about 05:53 PST (13:53 UTC) one of the other observers said "There it is." Sure enough, there was a distant, but faily bright spot of light on the horizon.

Although official sources said this vehicle had no solid starp-on motors, it left a fairly thick, white trail for about 20 seconds that was similar to solid motor exhaust.

After the trail disappeared, the vehicle continued to climb and I was surprised how bright it was. At about T+45 seconds the Delta IV was clearly much brighter than Venus when that planet is at its brightest. The vehicle's flame was at least magnitude -6 and more likely -8 (possibly even brighter). Although the first stage engine burns liquid fuel and oxidizer, it produced a flame as bright as a solid fuel missile like a Peacekeeper. In addition to the flame's brightness, I was also impressed by its orange color (hydrogen produces an orange flame, so this is likely due to the Delta IV's hydrogen fuel).

The vehicle continued to cross the sky towards the south. At about T+60 seconds there was a hint of a very tenuous exhaust plume behind the Delta IV.

Several seconds later, a very brief, bright, wedge-shaped exhaust plume appeared. The plume was white in color and lasted no more than 2 or 3 seconds. This was probably caused by stage 1/stage 2 staging.

The Delta grew fainter, but it still easily visible against the semi-bright sky background. About that time, I took a photo that shows the Delta passing near the star Sirius. The rocket was about one full magnitude magnitude fainter than Sirius.

As expected, the Delta IV launch produced an odd, luminous white cloud. I saw such a cloud during the last June's Delta IV launch and thought it was created by staging. However, June's cloud was high in the south but this morning's cloud was in the west (a totally different part of the sky than I had anticipated).

At no time did the flame from this morning's Delta IV launch have a shape. It resembled a compact (but not star-like), bright blob.

Four other observers showed up this morning to observe the launch. I don't recall having met any of them before.

* This viewing site is located at 34° 17' 57" (34.29917°) N, 118° 51' 25" (118.85694°) W, elevation: 807 ft (246 M)."

Joe Westerberg
Joshua Tree National Park, California

"We observed the launch clearly from Joshua Tree National Park... but we were a little disappointed. The rocket appeared only as a white light (like the space station when it goes over) with no tail and was not back lit by the sun. We saw one of the stage separations... with some very light diffusion but that quickly dissipated. Then the rocket quickly disappeared. Shortly after it disappeared a small splotch of unspent fuel began to glow but it too disappeared quickly. I did take a couple of pictures of it but have not yet got them developed... but am not anticipating much."

Mike White
El Segundo, California

"I Observed the Launch from Dotwiller State Beach in El Segundo CA. and was using a pair of Fujinon 7 X 50 Binoculars. This particular Launch was anticlimactic for me from my vantage point. There appeared to be overcast or fog towards Malibu, somewhat obstructing the view in that direction. When I first observed it over the fog-haze or overcast in that direction it looked like a Air Planes landing lights coming from the direction of Malibu so as it was at the right time I put up my Binoculars to the light and followed it with them. As it appeared to fly southwestwardly the light got somewhat brighter till the first stage separation then it got really brighter at that point and the light appeared much larger at that time. As I tract it downrange there appeared to be multiple pin points of lights in a straight line as it was getting farther away downrange. The only lasting evidence in the sky was a bright very short contrail for a few minutes ware the first stage separation occurred. There was no long contrail as that's what I was hopping to see. I did not see the rocket itself only the light. Next Launch I will go further up the coast to get closer and to get a better vantage point."

William Wise
North Las Vegas, Nevada

"I am in North Las Vegas and had a pretty good view of this mornings launch. Although I could not see a contrail I did see the actual flame of the rocket that looked like a very bright star rising rapidily into the sky. I had a good view for about 45 seconds before it faded off into the distance. I took some pics but they didn't turn out."

Steven Zwalick
San Luis Obispo, California

"My only interesting observation was the single, high altitude cloud that formed nearly instantly following the upper atmosphere exit. Very interesting."

Delta II / NROL-21

Launched 2006 December 14 13:00:00 PST

Brian Bills
Rancho Santa Fe, California

"I saw the smoke trail from Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County
I was located 1250' above sea level. I looked towards the ocean.

Pretty cool for a 1:pm launch."

Stephen Edberg
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

"It was visible even with the cirrus from a rooftop at JPL. The exhaust trail led me to the rocket after it cleared the Verdugo Hills. Unaided, it looked like a pinpoint of bright whitish light moving up and left and extending the trail as it went. In a 5x21 monocular it showed the comet-like shape, though small, commonly seen during dark-hours launches. Judging from the launch timeline, I lost it when the solids burned out and the trail went away."

Daniel Gant
Carpinteria State Beach, Santa Barbara County, California

"This was the second launch I've watched from Carpinteria State Beach. With my excellent Eagle Optics 8X42 binos, I could make out the nose cone (or else it was just the atmospheric conditions appearing that way), and had a great, albeit short show. The binos enabled me to watch the launch for probably 30-45 seconds longer than I could have seen it without."

Bill Goodart
Marina Del Rey, California

"I had a very great view of the Delta launch from the south jetty of Marina Del Rey. Watched thru my 10X30 stabilized binoculars. From my perspective, the rocket cleared the Santa Monica Mountains at Castro Peak. I saw the first 7 SRBs burn to completion, then the final 2 burn to completion, staging, then SECO. The sight was especially rewarding, as I worked on the original Delta rocket at Douglas Aircraft many years ago."

David Goppelt
Ridgecrest, California

"Viewed from Ridgecrest, CA. We were able to pick up the contrail as soon as it was observable on the horizon. No visible rocket flame, just the contrail. Did not get to see the staging as vehicle went behind a large cloud. Did not see the rocket or contrail after that."

Lee Jones
Claremont, California

"I witnessed the Delta II launch from home in Claremont CA (North 34 deg 6.96 min; West 117 deg 42.43 min; 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles).

I picked up the smoke trail then spotted the glowing rocket plume shortly after 13:00 PST -- right after it cleared the low clouds & haze to the west. I watched it with 15x50 binoculars until a probable staging event (after about 30 seconds). I lost it and was unable to reacquire it after the staging event.

Due to bright mid-day conditions, it was not spectacular. I was surprised that I was able to see it so well with the naked eye. Smoke trail was basically a dirty white, very similar to clouds, with red-orange rocket plume. Exhaust smoke trail spread fairly quickly until it was very difficult to distinguish from the scattered clouds in that area."

Nathan Korman
Jalama Beach, Santa Barbara County, California

"I observed the Delta II launch from Jalama Beach on December 14th at 13:00 PST under clear skies. The Delta II rocket came over the mountains from Vandenberg at an almost vertical trajectory. I could clearly see the rocket motor flame as a bright orange ball at the base of the vehicle. I was able to see the vehicle begin its southern trajectory for about 2 minutes before I lost the rocket in the sun's glare."

Clement Miller
Newport Beach, California

"Three minutes before Delta II launch time, with the help of Google Earth, I concluded that the window in my somewhat elevated Newport Beach office faces west, with an approximate viewing range of 240 deg. to 285 deg.

Sure enough for a few moments a fellow programmer and I were able to view the rocket from our office before it passed beyond the upper-layer clouds. From this view, which is about 225 miles away from Vandenberg, it appeared to look like a jet at a high altitude, but due to its unique trajectory, you could clearly differentiate the two."

Nils Nehrenheim
San Pedro, California

"Saw the beautiful Delta lift and burn right up into the sky. Looked just like a very high altitude plane as it was gently rising, except with a glow right at it's tail. Nice contrail. After the Delta passed behind a cloud, I lost the rocket. Seems as if the second stage separated behind the cloud and once the rocket "reappeared" I wasn't able to see the rocket with my binos. Otherwise, what a nice daylight launch!"

Andy Randrup
Morro Bay, California

"I watched this launch from the deck of my house in north Morro Bay, around 80 miles as the crow flies from the pad. Right on time, the craft cleared the horizon with orange flame tipping a thick, white column of exhaust, and the vehicle gleaming as it labored into the sky. In a slow and majestic arc, it crawled over Morro Rock and towards the sun, shining against the body of the rocket and making it visible through binoculars for several minutes. I couldn't see the boosters drop as I did when the Delta IV launched at dawn, but I could see the reflection for much longer because of the angle and its southern path."

OSPTLV (Minuteman II) / FTX-02

Launched 2007 March 20 21:27:00 PDT

Rick Baldridge
Campbell, California

"Kevin and I (and my son Brent) set up about 8:15 to photograph the Minuteman launch from near our house with 2 Canon Xti DSLR cameras. We waited until about 9:05 then called it quits.

I was washing dishes looking out my south-facing kitchen window when I saw the first stage clear the coastal mountains. I didn't get a good timing, but think it was close to 9:27pm PDT. Kevin and I ran outside and watched the staging events and the track. It was quite a bit higher in loft that most Minuteman launches I've seen and photographed."

Ken Navarre
Sunnyvale, California

"The launch was clearly visible in the San Francisco Bay Area as the missile climbed out over the Pacific. Before the 3rd stage burnout the exhaust was visible about 50 degrees above the horizon. Wish it had been earlier so the sunlight could have lit the exhaust..."

Follow-up comments:

"The clouds had cleared over the entire San Francisco Bay area with the exception of the coastal hill and the stars were bright. I had climbed onto my roof at the start of the 20:30 launch window and waited for about 1/2 hour before going back inside. Came back out just in time to see the plume rising from the south and climbing out. I'm sure that anyone in the greater S.F. Bay Area could have seen the launch."

Brian Webb
Vandenberg AFB, California

I originally planned to photograph and observe the launch from East Camino Cielo in the mountains north of Santa Barbara. That morning I spoke to a weather forecaster and he predicted there would be some clouds above me at launch time, but not a solid layer.

When I arrived at East Camino Cielo, the site was in the clouds. At T-2 hours the expected clearing was not occurring, so I went downhill to highway 154 and drove north, looking for someplace I could go for clear skies.

I eventually ended up at Vandenberg AFB, and drove through the fog to a site 11 km from the silo. Unfortunately, my new site was foggy with visibility no more than 100 feet. The countdown was halted at about T-3 minutes due to an issue with the missile. Several minutes later I noticed that I could see lights along the coast and that it appeared to be clearing.

The weather continued to clear somewhat as we approached the new lift-off time of 21:27 PDT. At T-0, a large part of the sky lit up with a bright orange glow, silohuetting the distant coastal hills. A second or two later, the missile appeared from behind the hills. The vehicle itself wasn't visible, just a long, brilliant shaft of white fire - resembling white hot liquid metal.

About two seconds later, the missile climbed into the low cloud deck and disapperared. I expected it to reappear, but it never did. Several seconds later the sound of the launch reached us. It was somewhat loud, but not as loud as other launches of this same missile in the past. The low clouds apparently attenuated the sound.

Pegasus XL / AIM

Launched 2007 April 25 13:26 PDT

Thom Rice
Aptos, California

"...am happy to report a good look at yesterdays(4/25) Pegasus launch........
a late clearing fog and some high clouds and haze made conditions less than perfect but knew exactly where to look after last time which is directly west over the center of Monterey Bay from the Seacliff Beach location.....at about 10-15 degrees above the horizon I saw the ignition plume which is quite thick due to low velocity....this dips into a shallow U-arch and then begins a massive accelleration at about 80 degrees toward a South Polar orbit this time......the fine white contrail and bit of white rocket reflection was visible to about 45 degrees above the horizon when the contrail abruptly stopped except for a momentary burp of contrail a bit above the main stop point......not the most spectacular launch observation but it's cool just to pull off a sighting..."

Abbreviations

~Approximately
'Minutes of latitude or longitude
"Seconds of latitude or longitude
"Inch
CaCalifornia
DMSPDefense Meteorological Satellite Program
f/Camera lens f/ stop or telescope focal ratio
degDegrees
ftElevation above sea level, in feet
GT-Glory Trip. Name given to ICBM test launches
hHeight
IRInfrared
kmKilometers
m, MElevation above sea level, in meters
mTime, in minutes
MECOMain Engine Cutoff
mmMillimeter
NNorth
OxyOxygen
PDTPacific Daylight Time
PSTPacific Standard Time
sTime, in seconds
secSeconds
SLCSpace launch complex. A launch pad.
SWSouthwest
T-Time before launch
t+, T+Time after launch
TRACETransition Region and Coronal Explorer
UTCCoordinated Universal Time
VmVisual magnitude. An astronomical measure of the brillance of an object.
WWest
x, XUsed in reference to binoculars. For example, 10x50 refers to 10 times magnification by a 50 millimeter objective lens diameter.
x, XTimes. Refers to magnification

Home | Site Map | Search | About | Contact

Copyright © 2002-2007, Brian Webb. All rights reserved.