JPL Scientist Records SpaceX Launch with Drone-Mounted Camera

Published : Tuesday, January 2, 2018 | 1:26 AM

A scientist working with the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena used a high-quality video camera mounted on a drone to record exceptionally clear images of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as it lifted off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angeles delivering 10 more next-generation Iridium communication satellites into orbit.

WRAL North Carolina weather blog contributor Tony Rice posted the video taken from Doug Ellison’s drone camera as the Falcon 9 lifted off from the base’s Launch Complex 4-East about 30 minutes after sunset.

Ellison controlled the drone which flew high above his home near Pasadena as it took the video.

“Doug is a friend of mine who knows a thing or two about spaceflight and cameras,” Rice writes. “He spends his days at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he serves as the Engineering Camera Payload Uplink Lead for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, developing and delivering the sequences that camera follows each day.”

The video showed what steps the rocket goes through as it gets into orbit, as well as how the Earth’s atmosphere works to affect how the exhaust appears – from Main Engine Cutoff (MECO) about two minutes 33 seconds into the flight, towards a five-second pause, before the second stage lights up, “and the science class in the sky continues,” Rice writes.

“Seen about three minutes into flight in the image… the exhaust from the first stage twists in the more turbulent winds of the troposphere and stratosphere,” Rice said. “Exhaust from the second stage really widens out in the thin air of the mesosphere.”

Other people on the ground also followed the launch, enthralled by the billowing streak in the sky that was widely seen throughout Southern California and as far away as Phoenix, Arizona.

WRAL reported that cars stopped on freeways in Los Angeles as drivers and passengers took pictures and video of the launch. The Los Angeles Fire Department has to issue an advisory saying that the “mysterious light in the sky” was from the rocket launch.

The launch was the 18th and final launch of the year for SpaceX, which has a contract to replace Iridium’s system with 75 updated satellites. The company expects to launch several more to complete the job by mid-2018, WRAL said.

The satellites also carry payloads for global aircraft tracking and a ship-tracking service.


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