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.