Antares rocket launch from Wallops, Va. – WATCH

September 18, 2013

Update: 1:13 p.m.: Here’s a video of the rocket launch

From 10:30 a.m.: NASA plans to launch Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket into space today, between 10:50 and 11:05 a.m.

The launch will be viewable from Washington, D.C. and large parts of the Mid-Atlantic.

Here’s a viewing map:

(NASA)
(NASA)

And here are maps which provide a guide as to where to look, from the standpoint of several D.C. area landmarks:


Where to look from the Capitol east steps in the District (Orbital Sciences)

Where to look from the Lincoln Memorial in the District (Orbital Sciences)

Where to look from Annapolis (Orbital Sciences)

Where to look from the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum in northern Virginia (Orbital Sciences)

Generally, if you’re in the D.C. area, you’ll want to look to the southeast during the launch window.

Note: there is some uncertainty about the exact geographical viewing area and what you’ll see, as Orbital Sciences explains:

Please keep in mind that none of us really know how far away the rocket will be visible. The first stage of Antares is a liquid rocket, fueled by Kerosene and Liquid Oxygen. The resulting exhaust is a combination of Carbon Dioxide and Water Vapor. As with a jet engine, under most circumstances the exhaust will not be visible, although if the atmospheric conditions are just right a contrail might be left behind. Most likely, if the vehicle can be seen at all during the first stage, it will look like a small bright dot with a small puff of smoke behind it. The second stage is a solid rocket which does leave a significant column of exhaust behind it. For most observers the vehicle will be quite far away at that point (500+ miles), however it is possible that if the day is very clear the smoke left behind will be visible.

The rocket will carry a spacecraft, known as Cygnus, designed to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Post’s Joel Achenbach offers in glimpse inside:

It’s not that big of a rocket, really, and the cargo in the spacecraft is relatively mundane — about 1,500 pounds of clothes, food, water, chocolate for the chocolate-craving astronauts, and so on. But the rocket scheduled to blast off at 10:50 a.m. Wednesday from a small island on the Virginia coast is carrying a heavy burden of expectations.

Phil Plait from Slate’s Bad Astronomy explains the mission, once the Cygnus spacecraft exits the Earth’s atmosphere:

If successful, this will be only the second time in history a completely private company will have launched a spacecraft to the ISS; SpaceX was the first, having sent two Dragon capsules to the ISS (one in May 2012 and the other in March 2013). Both companies are contracted to NASA for supply runs to ISS through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, a program to help private companies develop to the hardware to send supplies to orbit.

Although the launch is scheduled for today, there is always the chance it will be scrubbed due to technical or weather issues… although the weather is close to ideal, with clear skies and light winds.

If you’re stuck in an office, you can watch the launch live on NASA TV.

Related: Antares rocket launch from April | Photos

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Dan Stillman · September 18, 2013