Flight Proven: SpaceX SES10 by Michael Seeley

The view of the SpaceX SES10 first stage, returning to port.

The view of the SpaceX SES10 first stage, returning to port.

April 4, 2017: At 5:45 this morning, I was at the end of the Jetty Park Pier, waiting for the #SpaceX #SES10#Falcon9 rocket to be brought home. 

For the second time. 

I was in nearly the same spot 357 days earlier to watch this rocket return to Cape Canaveral (that time it was a 1 am arrival in the Port). And, luckily I was able to make it again this morning to see the first "flight proven" (aka twice launched and landed) booster return to (mostly) where it started.

The end of the pier was an interesting place; when I arrived, the people there seemed to have been there for quite some time, waiting for the droneship (named "Of Course I Still Love You") carrying the Falcon9, illuminated in the distance, to finally enter the channel. There were cans of energy drinks, and there was even a guy sound asleep on a cot (who I didn't notice until someone bumped into the bed, startling awake the waiting SpaceX fan). Also in attendance was Stephen Marr, the guy who snapped the lucky pictures of the droneship "roomba", and Jean WrightKen Kremer, and John Kraus would later join the party. There was the guy visiting from Michigan who had gone for a walk to watch the sunrise and was excited to learn that he'd get to see a rocket. Someone would later ask aloud if the rocket was going to launch from the droneship. (?!)

My favorite (aside from Jean, of course) was the fisherman in the motorized wheelchair who was completely unfazed by the incoming rocket. He asked if the spot at the very end of the pier was "taken," set some poles there (shown in this picture), and later indicated that he thought we were all fisherman, and couldn't believe there were so many people out fishing this morning. As the rocket procession entered the channel and steamed by, we all adjusted our cameras, and he adjusted his lines.  

It was a fun morning watching the next installment in this "Wright Brothers moment" (credit: Phil Larson?) play out. I remain endlessly thankful that my family endures me slinking out of the house at ridiculous hours to capture these things, and I remain nearly equally thankful that I don't need much sleep.

Anatomy of the coolest streak shot I've ever taken by Michael Seeley

Anatomy of the coolest streak shot I’ve ever taken:

This image is a composite of 4 images taken of the SpaceX #Falcon9 #OG2 launch and landing. The image I posted last night about 45 minutes after launch is a composite of the first and last images I took during this sequence. 

First, my thanks to my wife Jennifer for putting up with my forced march to Jetty Park but in particular for driving us home after so I could process the images. As a result, I thought I had one of the first streaks posted, but in fact the ever-capable John Studwell beat me (with a truly stunning shot – well done John) by about 15 minutes. I blame my obsession with trying to clean the image of the blue squiggly lines from the people using cell phones (you didn’t need to hold them over your heads, people) in front of me. I spent at least 10 minutes fussing over them, but in the end I just left the blue lines in the frames.

In my haste I didn’t notice that in the later frames I caught more of the launch streak than I originally thought and I also caught just a bit of the initial burn during the re-entry of the first stage. So that’s all shown here. 

The technical details: 
Frame 1 is the launch streak (to the left) and is a 128 second exposure, from 8:28:36pm to 8:30:44pm. 

Frame 2 is the faint (but visible) peak of the streak. I took 5 seconds to check the framing of the first streak, and triggered the camera at 8:30:49pm for a 94 second exposure that ended at 8:32:23pm.

Frame 3 is essentially the bright dot at the top of the frame. This is a 72 second exposure from 8:35:41pm to 8:36:53pm. There is a 3 minute 18 second gap between frames 2 and 3, during which time the rocket fired well above the frame, and stopped firing just as it entered the frame. 

I’ll take a moment to add that the distance from where we were standing to the landing pad was 5.85 miles to the northeast, and during this initial burn, the rocket appeared to be heading right for us. I haven’t looked at the track of the first stage on a map, but it does make sense that it would have to move in a southwesterly direction to return home (aka right toward us), but it did cause a slight moment of pause err panic in me and those around us. 

Frame 4 is, well, it is the reason we’re all giddy about this historic event. Two seconds after the third frame, I triggered an 81 second exposure starting at 8:36:55pm and ending at 8:38:16pm, after the rocket had disappeared behind the berm on the other side of the channel, and before the two sonic booms.  

These frames are uncropped and unstraightened – if I straighten the frame, the small dot at the top of the frame (from frame 3) is lost. Also, you can see the heads of the people who were in front of us on the path…I dropped them out of the shot last night, but here they are in their cell-phone wielding splendor. 

Other specs: The images are all shot at ISO 500 and f18, shot through a 17-40mm (set to 17mm) using a full-frame camera body. They were exported as layers from Lightroom to PhotoShop and were combined there. 

My congratulations to the entire SpaceX team for this stunning accomplishment. Also, congratulations to the crew at 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. (who, for a brief time last night had the equivalent of a missile being shot at them) and also to Port Canaveral for hosting such a large group of launch viewers.

Rocket launch photography + Florida weather = not always the best combination by Michael Seeley

First, my congratulations to the United Launch Alliance team for their 100th launch this morning. The ‪#‎MORELOS‬ satellite carried by an ‪#‎AtlasV‬ seems to have been a great success.

However, my attempts to photograph this epic launch were a complete fail. I must have used all my good photographic karma for the ‪#‎MUOS‬ launch.

When I learned last night that winds would require media to shoot from the NASA Press Site (thanks Mike Brown for the heads up), I pondered alternative places to shoot from, rather than compete for the limited sight lines to LC41. I was thinking the beach, but with help from Val Phillips and Jared, I concluded that Playalinda Beach wouldn't have been open early enough.

I convinced myself that a streak over the Cocoa Beach Pier would be the way to go. The easiest thing to do would have been to roll out of bed at 5:30am (a full 2 and 1/2 hours later than everyone else...sorry) and shoot from Satellite Beach, but I thought the pier would be a nice thing for the foreground.

The results: The first photo is the scene at 6:02am, just six minutes before the 6:08am launch was held for an [expletive deleted] sailboat in the range. Notice the clear sky, the lovely stars...that held until about 6:10. By 6:15 the clouds had completely obscured the sky.

Although you'd never know, the second photo is in fact the launch. Extra special bonus: 15 seconds before the 6:28am liftoff, it started raining...

I will add that people to the south of me got lovely streaks...I'm guessing because the opening in the clouds that was over me at 6:08 had moved sufficiently south.