Thursday, October 24, 2013

September Mid-Atlantic Space Coast Launches Accomplish Their Missions

The anticipated historic launches from the Wallops Island, VA in September occurred successfully and have gone on to carrying out successful missions. NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE, pronounced like "laddie") mission began on September 6 with a spectacular night-time launch that was visible throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic region. LADEE has gone on to enter orbit around the Moon to begin carrying out its science mission and to test a powerful new method of laser communication that has already demonstrated the highest data downlink rate from beyond Earth orbit. Here is a NASA video of the launch.

Meanwhile, the demonstration flight of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) launched on September 18 on an Antares rocket and successfully docked with the ISS where the crew unloaded cargo included on this demo mission and loaded trash no longer needed aboard the station. This week, Cygnus departed the ISS and reentered Earth's atmosphere and burned up over the Pacific Ocean as planned. The successful mission clears the way for Orbital Sciences Corporation to carry out a contract for eight more cargo delivery missions to the ISS. Here is my amateur video of this launch. (I had to end the video as the rocket approached the Sun's glare.)

I was able to witness both launches in person. For the LADEE night launch, I stayed in Chincoteague, VA. For the Cygnus launch, my sister and I drove down from Ocean City, MD that morning (~1 hour drive) to watch the spectacular launch and were able to get back to Ocean City in time for a mid-afternoon bay cruise. Visiting the Wallops spaceport and watching a launch can be an exciting part of an Eastern Shore vacation.