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May 20, 2009

Minotaur rocket launches ... finally

Orbital Sciences Corp. finally got its Minotaur 1 rocket (below, left) off the ground at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility yesterday evening. It carried an Air Force TacSat-3 technology satellite, a NASA biotech satellite and three other "birds" to orbit. It was only the third successful launch to orbit ever from the Eastern Shore.

Here's the YouTube video from the launch site.

NASA/WallopsAs advertised, the launch - 20 minutes late at 7:55 p.m. EDT - was visible from Baltimore, as well as Fall River, Mass. and many other locations from the mid-Atlantic states to New England.

The word is the satellites made it to orbit and were in contact with their creators.

But the rocket wasn't all that easy to spot from 115 miles away. My daughter and I posted outselves at the foot of Bond Street in Fells Point. When we saw nothing at the scheduled launch time of 7:35, we called home, got a Web check, and learned the liftoff was delayed to 7:55. When that time arrived, we scanned the southeast horizon. I got nothing, but very soon my daughter spotted the rocket's flame rising above Tide Point. When the long, thin, white contrail appeared, I finally picked it up. And, with binoculars, I followed the Minotaur much higher above the horizon than I expected - maybe 45 degrees - before I lost it.

If they had delayed liftoff until 9 or 10 p.m., and skies at the surface had been darker, I think we would have seen more. But we've had quite a few comments from readers saying they saw the launch just fine and got a kick out of it.

Matt Schroeder/Mt. Airy

Above is an image sent to me by Matt Schroeder, who photographed the launch from Mt. Airy. Here's what he had to say:

"Frank: My friend Ben called me around 7:50 p.m. tonight to tell me a rocket was about to be launched from Wallops Flight Facility.  My son Jacob (age 5) and I ran outside and looked to the southeast.  We live about 7 miles north of Mount Airy, Maryland.  Amazingly we saw the rocket as it sped into the sky!  Jacob thought that was pretty cool (and so did I) ...  After taking the picture I also noticed a small plane in the upper right side of the image. - Best regards, Matt Schroeder"


His shot is better than the ones I got with my point-and-shoot from downtown Baltimore (below). You can just barely make out the white smoke trail rising through the brown smog at the bottom-center of my image.

SUN PHOTO/Frank Roylance


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching


You guys are driving me nuts! There have been more than 3 satellites from Wallops. Do a google search on "Scout Launch Vehicle"

FR: Looks like the commenter is correct. A NASA website counts 20 Scout launches to orbit at Wallops. It also lists the Conestoga launch in 1995, however. That one failed. I know because I was there. That makes me question how many of the 20 Scout launches listed also failed. Our criterion was "successful" launches to orbit. I'll try to get this clarified. Thanks to the reader.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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