This week I was fortunate enough to witness two launches: the space shuttle for STS-130, and the Solar Dynamics Observatory. I’ve already posted some pictures from STS-130 (linked above).
As with STS-130, the SDO launch was scrubbed on the first day. After going through the whole 1 hour launch window on 10 February, the winds were consistently too high (above 20 knots). We thought we were going to be able to launch at the very end of the window and even came out of the hold at T-4 min. Sadly, winds went above the limit after just 1 second! So, it was scrubbed for 24 hours.
We tried again today. The launch window was from 10:23 – 11:23 and the winds were looking better today. There was a slight worry about clouds, but they didn’t prove to be an issue.
After yesterday’s scrub we were all anxious to see the rocket launch today. The weather is forecast to be bad tomorrow (rain, rain, rain) so Saturday would have been the next chance. During the scheduled hold at T-4 minutes, we heard that the weather was go and they were aiming for launch at the beginning of the window!
At 10:19, the countdown resumed to much cheering an excitement. Aleya was jumping around in anticipation as the clock ticked down. With 10 seconds remaining, the crowd helped things along: “9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.. 0!”
The Atlas V was launched without booster rockets so the initial acceleration was slow. It seemed to take an agonizingly long time for the rocket to move… Finally, (it seemed!) the rocket was well on it’s way.
As the rocket picked up speed we followed it skyward. It continued climbing upwards, heading for a cloud and a sun dog. We were then treated to an amazing sight: the shockwave from the rocket’s supersonic travel rippled outwards through the cloud, destroying the sun dog:
Video of the event was captured by Anna Herbst, and hosted on spaceweather.com (.mov movie file). Very cool, I highly recommend watching it.
After blowing through the cloud, the rocket began creating a visible contrail behind it, snaking skyward.
We kept watching until we lost view of the rocket, well on its way to orbit.
I had a fantastic weekend as part of the group of twitter correspondents selected to cover the launch and associated events. It was an excellent group of people and we had a great time witnessing the launch of a much anticipated satellite. For some basic info on the goals of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, see the SDO website or this nice summary by Nicole, the Noisy Astronomer.