The key time frame is between 5 and 6 a.m.
The centerpiece of the display will be the launch of SpaceX Crew-2, a Crew Dragon spacecraft transporting four astronauts to the International Space Station. The launch was originally slated for Thursday morning but was scrubbed due to the forecast of inclement weather.
Liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. will instead occur at 5:49 a.m. Eastern time Friday, assuming the weather cooperates and there are no technical difficulties.
Though no rain or storms are in the forecast for Florida’s Space Coast on Thursday, flight engineers were worried about wind conditions and wave heights in the areas below which the rocket will travel en route to orbit. That would pose an issue if the mission had to be aborted.
It’s unclear exactly how readily the launch will be seen, but Tony Rice, an ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, thinks there’s a good shot it’ll be visible for much of the East Coast.
“The exhaust plume of the Falcon 9 rocket illuminated by the rising sun could be visible,” he wrote in an email. “Don’t expect the kind of show we were treated to last month with the Starlink launch [though.]”
That Starlink launch, which took place at 6:01 a.m. on March 14, carried five dozen Internet satellites into orbit using 1.7 million pounds of thrust. For comparison, a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner jet has 64,000 pounds of thrust in each of its twin engines.
The American Meteor Society received more than 120 fireball reports from viewers along the East Coast mistaking the rocket for a meteor.
The launch proved picturesque along much of the East Coast, since it occurred 30 minutes earlier before sunrise, meaning the sky was darker. Rice emphasized that earlier timing would produce a better show, since the exhaust plume would be illuminated by sunlight high above the ground while the earth’s surface and sky overhead are still dark.
This time around, the launch comes only an hour before sunrise in Cape Canaveral. The sun will be just 13 degrees below the horizon around the start of nautical twilight.
Farther north, according to Rice, the show might be a bit better, since the sky will be darker. It may take a few minutes for the rocket to ascend high enough to become visible at your location; Rice recommends ballparking about one minute’s delay after launch for every hundred miles you are from the launch.
Meanwhile, low pressure passing offshore of New England and into the Gulf of Maine will induce west-northwesterly winds along the Appalachians eastward, eroding cloud cover and bringing mostly clear skies. It’ll be chilly though — 40s for the Carolina coastal plain, and 30s inland across much of Virginia, the Mid-Atlantic and the North Carolina Piedmont.
Temperatures in the 40s will also be common across much of Georgia, with 50s in southern regions and 60s in Florida.
The International Space Station will also be visible Friday morning, about 40 minutes before the spacecraft launch. It will first appear for many in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic around 5:08 a.m. and should be about as bright as an airplane passing overhead — except it’s cruising through space 254 miles overhead at about 17,000 mph.
It produces no light of its own; instead, you’ll be seeing sunlight reflecting off solar panels attached to the structure. The vessel is about the width of a football field.
Where to look and exactly how high in the sky the Space Station will get depends on your specific location. You can check the specifics for your neighborhood here.
Amid all that, there’s even a chance you could catch a shooting star, too! The Lyrid meteor shower will be active, but the waxing gibbous moon, which will be about 70 percent illuminated, will outshine some of them. Fortunately, moonset occurs shortly before 5 a.m., allowing a better window of darker skies.
Up to a dozen shooting stars may sputter across the sky each hour. The show is instigated by tiny pebbles of debris left in the wake of Comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which passes by Earth every 451 years.
Most Lyrid meteors are dull in comparison to those produced by the year’s more prolific Perseid or Geminid meteor showers, but a few rogue “fireballs,” or shooting stars brighter than Venus, are possible.