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Thursday, January 04, 2018

Iridium 4 Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg AFB

 On Friday December 22, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Iridium 4 payload into orbit from Vandeberg AFB.  The cool thing was that the launch occured not long after sunset which gives an optimal view of the rocket and plume as it climbs into orbit.  It climbed into sunlight just over 2 minutes after liftoff.  I drove out along Kinney Road west of Tucson in the Tucson Mountains to get a good view towards the west.  I set up my Canon 6D with a 50mm f/1.8 lens on tripod and aimed west.  The rocket appeared about 2.5 minutes after launch as a small distant plume and this image was taken a few moments later.  The knot of in the middle of the plume is the result of the first stage separation.
 This image was taken a few moments later showing the upper stage firing at the left end of the plume and the first stage is visible behind the 2nd stage and above the separation plume.
 As the 2nd stage rockets into orbit, the first stage is visible below and behind it as it descends towards a water landing.  The plume of the rocket is blue near the top being lit by direct sunshine while the lower part of the plume is let by the setting sun.
 The upper stage and satellites are heading south as it ascends into orbit.  The colors are even more obvious and the lower edge of the plume are in shadow.
Several minutes after the upper stage and satellites disappeared below the horizon, the remaining rocket plume continued to evolve and expand as it dissipated about 15 minutes or so after its first appearance.

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