Satellite signatures of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch

February 6th, 2018 |

GOES-16 "Red" Visible <em>(0.64 µm, top),</em> Near-Infrared "Snow/Ice" <em>(1.61 µm, middle)</em> and Shortwave Infrared <em>(3.9 µm, bottom)</em> images, with plots of surface reports [click to play animation]

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm, top), “Blue” Visible (0.47 µm, middle) and Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm, bottom) images, with plots of surface reports [click to play animation]

GOES-16 (GOES-East) “Red” Visible (0.64 µm), “Blue” Visible (0.47 µm) and Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 um) images (above) captured the signature of rocket plumes from the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on 06 February 2018. Bright areas of water droplet clouds were seen both at the surface near Launch Complex 39A and aloft just east of the Florida coast on the 20:47:28 UTC and 20:52:28 UTC images (the satellite was scanning those cloud features at 20:48:33 / 20:55:33 UTC or 3:48:33 / 3:55:33 PM Eastern Standard Time, respectively). The plume aloft looked like this from the surface. Due to significant lower-tropospheric wind shear, the near-surface launch pad plume drifted slowly toward the northwest, while the higher-altitude plume moved more quickly toward the northeast. Strong upper-tropospheric winds — 86 knots at 140 hPa or 14.4 km on the 12 UTC sounding — led to a 2 hour launch delay until speeds dropped to within safe flight criteria.

Looking farther to the east-northeast over the Atlantic Ocean, a pair of warm thermal anomalies — likely from the recently-separated twin Side Core booster engines (left) and the still-active single Center Core booster engine (right) — were seen on the corresponding 20:47:28 UTC GOES-16 Upper-level (6.2 µm), Mid-level (6.9 µm) and Low-level (7.3 µm) Water Vapor images (below). A similar warm signature in Water Vapor imagery was observed following a previous SpaceX rocket launch in March 2017.

GOES-16 Upper-level (6.2 µm, top), Mid-level (6.9 µm, middle) and Low-level (7.3 µm) images [click to play animation]

GOES-16 Upper-level (6.2 µm, top), Mid-level (6.9 µm, middle) and Low-level (7.3 µm, bottom) images [click to play animation]

While Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) imagery is useful for detection of thermal anomalies associated with wildfires or volcanic eruptions, in this case the warm signature (darker gray) was much less distinct compared to what was seen on the water vapor imagery (below).

GOES-16 Upper-level (6.2 µm, top), Mid-level (6.9 µm, middle) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm, bottom) image [click to enlarge]

GOES-16 Upper-level (6.2 µm, top), Mid-level (6.9 µm, middle) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm, bottom) image [click to enlarge]

One Response to “Satellite signatures of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch”

  1. Nate B says:

    Oh sweet! I hadn’t thought about orbital platforms shooting in the infrared. 🙂 I video’d the launch with my FLIR from the ground: https://youtu.be/1gVaV8hc6SE?t=5m46s

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