Friday, October 28, 2011

Roman Candle in the Sky

26mm, 433 second exposure (just over 7 minutes), f/5.0.

One of the small benefits of being located in the Antelope Valley is that we're 130 miles due east of Vandenberg Air Force Base, over on the coast. This gives us a gorgeous viewing spot for any night satellite launches that take place from there, the preferred launch location for craft destined for a polar orbit.

Such was the case with last night's launch of Delta 357, carrying the NASA NPOESS Preperatory Project (NPP) payload, a climate observation science package, plus six small "cubesat" science science research satellites. The standard Delta rocket was augmented by nine strap-on solid rocket boosters, and when I learned of this, I knew it would be bright!

800mm, 1/125 sec, f/8, handheld...not bad for a distance of over 130 miles!
According to the United Launch Alliance website, the ten-minute launch window was to open at 2:47 am, so I I hauled my carcass out of bed at two, grabbed my gear, and headed into the desert. The goal was to find an appropriately photogenic Joshua Tree for the foreground, and though I thought I knew where there were some out on the west side of town, I turned out to be wrong, slapping my forehead for not planning better and going location scouting earlier.

Where I ended up, the western horizon was indistinguishable in its pitch blackness. Then, precisely at 2:48, it was like someone turned a light switch on. A large area of the horizon glowed orange, clearly showing the mountains between me and Vandenberg. It took a few moments before Delta 357 came into view, but when it did, I was amazed at the size of the plume. Those nine boosters packed quite a punch!

(Here's the ULA website for the launch. An if you should be interested in shooting any future launches from Vandenberg - the next is in March - keep you eye on the ULA manifest/schedule.)