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SpaceX Rocket Set for Early Morning Launch From SoCal Coast

SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket early Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base with a 10-satellite payload, and it should be visible to many in Southern California.

The Falcon 9 is a two-stage launch vehicle, meaning it is made up of two parts that carry the payload to orbit.

  • First Stage: The booster, or first stage, is what carries the payload for the first 2 minutes, 30 seconds of the launch. 
  • Second Stage: The second stage is what the payload is attached to. When the stages separate, the second stage carries the payload to orbit while the booster lands on a drone ship.

This launch will be the West Coast debut of the newest generation of Falcon 9 boosters, known as the “Block 5” series. The Block 5 produces more thrust, and has upgraded landing legs. Additional improvements have been made in order to speed up the turnaround time for reusing the booster. SpaceX hopes to be able to launch the same booster 10 times or more.

This will also mark another SpaceX attempt to recover the payload fairings in a giant net attached to a boat. During the launch, the fairings protect the payload from the forces of the atmosphere, and are ejected after the stages separate.

The launch is scheduled for Wednesday morning at 4:39 a.m., well before sunrise at Vandenberg AFB at 6:06 a.m., so an illuminated contrail may not be visible. For the rocket to climb into the sunlight, it will have to reach nearly 87 miles up. By that time, the main engines on the first stage will have cut off, and the rocket may be starting to move out of view for SoCal.

While we may not get a chance to see the contrail, the rocket itself should be visible to anyone looking west-northwest from the LA area. It will look like a bright light that is rapidly climbing in the sky.

The schedule for Vandenberg AFB after Wednesday has another six launches by the end of the year, including four Falcon 9 launches. The other two launches are on the Delta rocket family, with one on a Delta II (the final Delta II launch, one of the brightest rockets launched from Vandenberg) and a Delta IV Heavy.

Photo Credit: Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images
Source: NBC Los Angeles

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