WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

How to watch a rocket, weather permitting

Posted April 16, 2013
Updated April 17, 2013

A rocket launch planned for Wednesday is expected to be visible from much of the Mid-Atlantic including central and eastern North Carolina, weather permitting. The 133-foot Antares rocket will launch on a test flight from the Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

The launch window opens at 5 p.m. Eastern and extends for three hours. The event will be carried live on NASA TV and NASA.com. Once you see the rocket lift off on TV or online, head outside and look to the northeast. Observers along the North Carolina coast should look more to the north.

If you’ve not seen a launch before, you may be surprised that the path is more out than up. This puts it on a course which matches the ISS and also takes some advantage of the Earth's rotation to give the rocket a bit more energy. Look for the rocket’s exhaust plume to draw a thin, rising line from left to right.

Central Florida residents know well that Space Shuttle and SpaceX launches follow a gentle arc across the sky as the vehicle gains speed to reach the 17,500 miles per hour needed to orbit Earth. The plume can linger for hours on an especially calm day but often twists as sea breezes push and pull it.

If the launch is postponed, additional launch windows are available through Friday. If clouds obscure our view, there will be more chances to see a launch. Orbital Sciences Corporation is contracted to provide eight Commercial Resupply Missions (CRS) to deliver over 20 tons of cargo each to the ISS.

Three cubesats will also be deployed by the mission. These small satellites are built around smartphones running the Android operating system to demonstrate that inexpensive, off-the-shelf hardware can perform spacecraft functions.


Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Tony Rice Apr 21, 2013

    Clouds got in the way for most of us today.

  • myself Apr 20, 2013

    nasa.GOV....not nasa.com Seriously?

  • Tony Rice Apr 20, 2013

    upper level winds have delayed launch time until 6:10pm tonight

  • Tony Rice Apr 20, 2013

    weather conditions have improved to 90% go for today's launch

  • Tony Rice Apr 20, 2013

    If you'd like to track launch preparations, Orbital Science's twitter is a good source: https://twitter.com/OrbitalSciences

    SpaceFlightNow also maintains a good newstream, NASATV is embedded at the top too.

  • Tony Rice Apr 17, 2013

    weather has improved to 55% favorable. Next update expected at 3:30pm

  • Tony Rice Apr 17, 2013

    Latest word from Wallops Island is that while prelaunch activities are still "go", the weather forecast shows a "45% chance of acceptable weather conditions". Good weather is needed for this launch, since it is a demo flight, they'll have lots of cameras on the rocket during ascent to watch how it performs. Need clear weather for that.