Midnight SpaceX launch could be visible SF to LA, and beyond
Help! EarthSky needs your support to continue. Our yearly crowd-funding campaign is going on now. Donate here.
Midnight SpaceX launch on the night of April 13-14, 2023
After repeated delays, the SpaceX Transport-7 mission is scheduled to lift off no earlier than 11:47 p.m. PDT tonight, April 13, 2023, (6:47 UTC on April 14). The mission will launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California.
But experts say that – weather permitting – the launch could be visible in skies up to 300 miles (480 km) from the launch site. In that case, it’ll be visible from San Francisco to Los Angeles and beyond.
Cities within the predicted visibility radius are San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Reno, Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Las Vegas is just outside the radius, but observers there might get lucky!
A livestream of the launch should start about 10 minutes before launch. Watch the livestream on the player above, or go here.
A Falcon 9 will carry SpaceX Transporter-7 to orbit
A cargo of dozens of small satellites will share the ride aboard a trusty Falcon 9 lift vehicle. According to SpaceX:
Transporter-7 is SpaceX’s 7th dedicated smallsat rideshare mission. There will be 51 payloads on this flight, including CubeSats, MicroSats, hosted payloads, and orbital transfer vehicles carrying spacecraft to be deployed at a later time.
The Falcon 9 will boost the payload to a sun-synchronous orbit (an orbit that allows it to maintain a single relationship to the sun; this sort of orbit is useful for imaging, reconnaissance, and weather satellites, because every time that the satellite is overhead, the surface illumination angle on the planet underneath it is nearly the same).
Following launch, after delivering its payload to orbit, the Falcon 9 will return to Vandenberg. SpaceX explained:
A return to launch site usually means that – after stage separation – the booster flips and does a burn back towards the launch site, landing near where it initially launched from.
Launch may be visible over much of California
If the weather over the California Central Coast cooperates, the midnight launch could be visible for more than 300 miles (480 km) from the launch site. So says the Space Archive – which offers a detailed explanation – but they caution the stars must align for good long-distance viewing:
The visibility of rockets and missiles launched from Vandenberg AFB varies greatly. Some launches are difficult to see from relatively short distances while others are visible for several hundred miles. There are four primary factors affecting visibility: vehicle trajectory, lighting conditions, launch vehicle type (and) atmospheric transparency.
As of now, clear but windy skies are predicted for Vandenberg at launch time, as of this writing (about a day before the scheduled launch time).
Back in 2018, Lady Luck let people as far north as Humboldt County, California get a peek. That’s a 450-mile (725-km) long-shot.
Bottom line: A midnight launch of a SpaceX rocket on April 13, 2023, from California could be visible from San Francisco to Los Angeles and beyond.