A United Launch Alliance Delta IV (in the 5,2 configuration) placed NROL-47 into orbit, a classified payload. And it was a beautiful launch — with an unusually large hydrogen fireball at ignition, making this a particularly spectacular one to watch. That cloud is actually normal and does no harm to the vehicle.
While on the subject of Falcon rockets, the last Falcon 9 out of Vandenberg (launching the second set of Iridium NEXT satellites) caught a lot of attention for unusually perfect lighting conditions. It was a night launch, but early enough that the rocket quickly climbed into sunlight, brilliantly illuminating the vehicle’s plume against the dark of night. And the best part is — not only can you see staging, and not only can you see the point where the plume suddenly expands above the Karman Line (where the atmosphere becomes nearly insubstantial), but you can see the first stage firing its maneuvering thrusters!!! Seriously! Little poofs are clearly visible in these amazing home videos:
Certainly the best fireworks you could get at Disneyland:
There’s also this awesome time-lapse that makes the motion of the first stage more apparent:
It was even visible from Arizona. Here’s the view from a very puzzled news helicopter crew in Phoenix:
Mind you, you really should be careful if you see this while driving. It can be distracting:
Note: the first stage was actually not recovered after this mission; there was insufficient propellant left. But they practiced the maneuvers anyway before allowing the vehicle to plunge into the Pacific Ocean. The stage was making its second (and final) flight on this mission. To date, SpaceX has not used a stage three times, but I expect it’s only a matter of time before they do.
Of course, I should also include the view from the launch broadcast:
If all goes well, there will be two rocket launches tomorrow. One will be from Kourou in French Guiana, a Soyuz launching over the Atlantic Ocean to deliver Sentinel 1A, the first element in a European environmental monitoring satellite constellation, into a polar orbit suitable for global mapping. The other launch will be an Atlas V from Vandenburg AFB in California, placing the latest Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite into orbit.
From SpaceflightNow: DMSP F19 launch information, and photos of the encapsulated spacecraft heading to the launchpad.
And for Sentinel 1A, spacecraft integration with the Fregat booster that sits atop the Soyuz rocket, and rollout to the pad. Looks just like a rollout at Baikonur, except for all the dense tropical vegetation around. 😉 There is one other distinction; at Baikonur, payloads are generally integrated with Soyuz in the rocket assembly hall, but at Kourou the Fregat and spacecraft are integrated in the assembly hall and then mated to the rocket only after it has been erected on the pad.