Satellite signatures of the Webb Space Telescope rocket launch

December 25th, 2021 |

GOES-16 ABI spectral bands 1-16 [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

The Webb Space Telescope was launched from Europe’s Spaceport — located about 40 miles northwest of Kourou, French Guyana (station identifier SOCA) at 1220 UTC on 25 December 2021. A sequence of 1-minute Mesoscale Domain Sector GOES-16 (GOES-East) images from all 16 ABI spectral bands (above) showed one or both of two features: (1) the hot thermal signature of the Ariane 5 solid rocket booster and core engines, moving rapidly eastward, and (2) the reflective and/or colder signature of the rocket engine condensation cloud, most of which moved slowly northward away from the coast. 

At 1221 UTC, a cluster of warm pixels — a signature of the rocket engines — was evident in all Near-Infrared and Infrared ABI spectral bands (below).

GOES-16 ABI spectral bands at 1221 UTC [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

A closer view of GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images (below) showed the motion and deformation of the rocket condensation cloud in greater detail. Changes in wind direction and speed with height tended to distort the shape of the condensation cloud, moving it in different directions. Another view of this rocket condensation cloud is available here, using CSPP GeoSphere.

GOES-16 “Red” Visible (0.64 µm) images [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

The Plume RGB (below) is very useful for providing a single product to highlight all of the aforementioned rocket launch features (a shorter-duration animation is available here). Examples of the Plume RGB for other rocket launches can be seen in this blog post .

GOES-16 Plume RGB images (credit: Tim Schmit, NOAA/NESDIS/ASPB) [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

The ascending rocket plume was also seen on the extreme eastern limb of a GOES-17 (GOES-West) Visible image (below). Wind-induced distortion of the ascending rocket plume was evident in that view as well.

GOES ABI and Rocket Launches

December 21st, 2021 |

Recent rocket launches as seen by NOAA‘s GOES ABI. More on the multi-spectral ‘rocket plume’ RGB: quick guide and CIMSS Satellite Blog post. Or this post on seeing the Landsat launch.

December 21, 2021 from Kennedy Space Center

“Rocket plume RGB on December 21, 2021.

December 19, 2021 from Kennedy Space Center

Also from Cape Canaveral, but right on the edge of the meso-scale sector! (and as an animated gif).

“Rocket plume” RGB from December 19, 2021.

December 18, 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base

A view from GOES-17 (animated gif), note more striping due to increased instrument noise.

“Rocket plume RGB on December 18, 2021.


NOAA GOES-16 and -17 ABI data are via the University of Wisconsin-Madison SSEC Satellite Data Services. These images were made using the geo2grid software, developed at the UW/SSEC. More GOES-16 and -17 imagery and other information, including the SIFT software developed at UW/SSEC to quickly test RGB changes.

Satellite signatures of the DART Mission launch

November 24th, 2021 |

GOES-17 Near-Infrared, Shortwave Infrared and Water Vapor images [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

1-minute Mesoscale Domain Sector GOES-17 (GOES-West) Near-Infrared “Snow/Ice” (1.61 µm). Near-Infrared “Cloud Particle Size” (2.24 µm), Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm), Low-level (7.3 µm). Mid-level (6.9 µm) and Upper-level (6.2 µm) Water Vapor images (above) showed signatures of the DART Mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base in southern California on 24 November 2021. Shortly after the 0620 UTC launch, a warm thermal signature of the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster appeared in all 6 of these ABI spectral bands. Note that there were two 0621 UTC images; the 06:21:17 image was from the GOES-17 CONUS Sector — which, because it was scanning a much larger area, didn’t actually scan the rocket plume until around 06:21:57 UTC (the GOES-17 Mesoscale Sector 1 was scanning the rocket plume about 2 seconds earlier, at 06:21:55 UTC).

The corresponding GOES-17 Visible (spectral bands 1 and 2) and Near-Infrared (spectral bands 3-6) images are shown below. Since the satellite was viewing the rocket from the west, a very faint reflectance signature of the Falcon 9 booster could be seen in the first 3 post-launch 0.64 µm (Band 2) Visible images — but no discernible signature was evident in the lower-resolution 0.47 µm (Band 1) Visible imagery.

GOES-17 Visible and Near-Infrared images [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

Satellite signatures of the SpaceX/NASA Crew-3 launch

November 10th, 2021 |

GOES-16 ABI spectral bands 1-16 [click to play animated GIF | MP4]

On 10 November 2021, SpaceX and NASA launched the Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:03 pm EDT (0203 UTC on 11 November). GOES-16 (GOES-East) Mesoscale Domain Sector 1 provided images at 1-minute intervals (above) — reflectance and/or thermal signatures of the Falcon-9 rocket booster were seen in 15 of the 16 ABI spectral bands during the initial portion of its northeastward trajectory. The hottest Shortwave Infrared (3.9 µm) brightness temperature was 70.63ºC at 0205 UTC (which was around the time of Second Stage ignition).

A zoomed-in comparison of GOES-16 Visible and Near-Infrared images at 0204 UTC (below) provided a better view of the signatures just off the coast of Florida — an AWIPS cursor sampling indicated that there was even a 0.13% reflectance signal in the 0.47 µm “Blue” Visible image (but this value was not bright enough to be seen using the default enhancement). 

Comparison of GOES-16 Visible and Near-Infrared images at 0204 UTC [click to enlarge]

GOES-16 Plume RGB images (below) highlighted a bright thermal signature of the Falcon-9 rocket booster ascent, as well as the darker signature of low-altitude condensation clouds (resulting from the rocket launch) which moved slowly eastward.

GOES-16 Plume RGB (credit: Tim Schmit, NOAA/NESDIS) [click to play animated GIF]

A toggle between Plume RGB images from GOES-16 and GOES-17 at 0205 UTC (below) revealed a significant eastward parallax displacement of the yellow/orange thermal anomaly signature on the GOES-17 image. At that time, the rocket was at an altitude of about 70 km.

Plume RGB images from GOES-16 and GOES-17 at 0205 UTC (credit: Tim Schmit, NOAA/NESDIS) [click to enlarge]