The Minotaur Rocket (Orbital Sciences)

At 7:30 p.m. tonight,  a rocket will blast into space from Wallops Island, Va., carrying a record 29 satellites, including one developed at a high school in northern Virginia.  Sky watchers up and down the East Coast should be able to catch a glimpse.

The launch window for the mission, known as ORS-3 – run by the U.S. military’s Operationally Responsive Space Office, extends from 7:30 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.  Skies are forecast to be clear with diminishing winds, so assuming no technical hiccups (always a possibility), launch should proceed.

The Air Force’s Space Test Program Satellite-3, which will measure different aspects of the space environment, is by far the mission’s biggest spacecraft.

The satellite developed by Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., known as TJ3Sat, is one of 28 miniature “CubeSats” or nanosatellites that are part of the mission.

TJ3Sat is the first satellite to be built and tested by high school students, according to Orbital Sciences, the project’s corporate sponsor as well as the developer of the Minotaur rocket, boosting the various satellites into orbit.

“Since the beginning of the TJ3Sat program, Orbital has purchased flight hardware and contributed mentors and advice throughout the process, as well as assistance with final testing prior to launch,” said David Thompson, Orbital’s President. “We are thrilled to see the hard work and dedicated efforts of the students at Thomas Jefferson High School come to fruition and look forward to the educational benefits this satellite will bring to other students around the world.”

Here Orbital offers more detail about TJ3Sat:

The TJ3Sat (Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology)

The TJ3Sat project was conceived as a method to interest students around the world in space-related science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. TJ3Sat utilizes the CubeSat standard design developed by Stanford University and California Polytechnic State University. The cube-shaped satellite measures approximately 3.9×3.9×4.5 inches (10x10x12 centimeters) and has a mass of about 2.0 pounds (0.89 kilograms). The TJ3Sat’s payload is a phonetic voice synthesizer that converts strings of text to voice. Once converted, the voice is transmitted back to Earth over amateur radio frequencies. Students from around the world can submit text strings to be uploaded to the satellite for transmission. The satellite’s design and operations data is public, enabling students from other countries to use it freely.

Link: TJ3Sat Web site

How to watch the launch

At roughly 30 seconds after 7:30 p.m., skywatchers from the Washington D.C. area should look southeast just above the horizon.

(Orbital Sciences)

At its maximum, the rocket should appear 15-20 degrees above the horizon.

(Orbital Sciences)

Here’s a viewing map, from the vantage point of the Capitol:

(Orbital Sciences)

Link: Additional “where to look” visualizations from Orbital Sciences

Additional resources

Rocket fact sheet

Watch launch online 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. EST

Launch info on Twitter: Follow @TJ3Sat | @NASA_Wallops | @OrbitalSciences


Minotaur rocket launch seen from the Capitol (June 30, 2011)

NASA’s LADEE moon launch lights up the night (September 7, 2013)

PHOTOS: The year in space