Twilight launch seen up the U.S. East coast.
5:32 PM Est atop an Atlas V rocket from SLC-41 at Canaveral Air Force Station
To view my whole gallery/purchase a print
Just two minutes after the sun had officially set in Titusville Florida, ULA'S Might Atlas V roared to life, spitting flames, and throwing debris across the launch pad as nearly 1.8 million pounds of thrust launched the rocket into orbit. Being it was the twilight hour spectators stepping outside along the East coast of the United States were treated to a spectacle. Reports of the rocket being seen came in all the way as far as New Jersey. They might have seen the bird fly, but not like those close by on the Space Coast. We were treated to a real stunner as the launch pad was shrouded in darkness at the time of ignition but as the rocket soared higher it flew back into the sunlight, and the plumes from the three SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) started dancing in the sunlight and casting a shadow for many miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Originally set to launch last week a series of unfortunate events led ULA (United Launch Alliance) to chose Friday the 13th as their target launch date. A normally unlucky day turned into a beautiful show that many will remember forever. The weather forecast stood at 90% GO for launch all day and the skies were clear, then a small issue with something mechanical delayed the 206ft tall rocket for about ten minutes as the T-minus zero mark moved to just past sunset.
Little is known about the payload of this launch as it is for the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO and their missions are usually top secret. It did however have a "Lord Of The Rings" theme to it and the emblem was adorned with Elvish writing that stated "Goodness Persists". A tweet asking Tory Bruno why the mission had a LOTR themed was answered by Mr. Bruno directly stating "Reasons". That's all the answer we got, though some of us more nerdier rocket enthusiasts didn't mind the theming.
To date the NRO has launched 29 missions into orbit, 17 of which were carried inside the Atlas V and the other 12 inside Delta IV rockets. Last nights launch made for the 86th launch of an Atlas V rocket since they debuted back in 2002. Tory Bruno, the president of ULA also tweeted out shortly after the launch "141" telling us all that this was the companies 141st successful launch. For the fourth time in history the Atlas V flew in the 532 configuration, meaning it had a 5m fairing, and 3 SRBs. The three SRBS (Solid Rocket Boosters) were also a brand new design as this was their maiden voyage. Named GEM-63 these SRBs are being used to finalize productions of what will fly on the Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will be ULA's newest rocket and eventually take over as the companies work horse replacing the Atlas V.