Satellite signatures of a SpaceX rocket launch

April 11th, 2019 |

GOES-16 Low-level Water Vapor (7.3 µm), Mid-levell Water Vapor (6.9 µm), Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) and

GOES-16 Low-level Water Vapor (7.3 µm), Mid-level Water Vapor (6.9 µm), Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images from 2231-2251 UTC [click to enlarge]

The launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida occurred at 2235 UTC on 11 April 2019. Warm thermal signatures of pockets of air (which had been superheated by the booster rocket exhaust) were seen northeast of the launch site in GOES-16 (GOES-East) Low-level Water Vapor (7.3 µm), Mid-level Water Vapor (6.9 µm), Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm) and Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images (above). In addition, closer to the launch site a (thermally-cooler) signature of the lower-altitude rocket exhaust condensation plume was evident — for example, see an annotated comparison of the 2236 UTC images below (GOES-16 was scanning that exact location at 22:37:22 UTC, a little more than 2 minutes after launch).

GOES-16 Low-level Water Vapor (7.3 µm), Mid-levell Water Vapor (6.9 µm), Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) images at 2236 UTC [click to enlarge]

GOES-16 Low-level Water Vapor (7.3 µm), Mid-level Water Vapor (6.9 µm), Upper-level Water Vapor (6.2 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) and “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images at 2236 UTC [click to enlarge]

Two portions of the lower-altitude rocket condensation plume — one moving northeastward, and one moving westward — were seen in higher-resolution GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images (below).

GOES-16 "Red" Visible (0.64 µm) images [click to enlarge]

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images [click to enlarge]

The different directions of rocket condensation plume motion were due to directional shear of wind within the lowest 2 km or 6500 feet of the atmosphere, as shown in a plot of 00 UTC rawinsonde data from Cape Canaveral, Florida (below).

Plot of 00 UTC rawinsonde data from Cape Canaveral, Florida [click to enlarge]

Plot of 00 UTC rawinsonde data from Cape Canaveral, Florida [click to enlarge]

Similar signatures of other rocket launches have been seen using GOES-16 and GOES-17.

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