Virginia launch visible from North Carolina

The launch of an Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station is expected to be visible shortly after sunset on Tuesday.

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Orb3 Antares at Sunrise
Tony Rice

The launch of an Antares rocket bound for the International Space Station is expected to be visible shortly after sunset on Tuesday.

Monday's launch attempt was scrubbed due to an errant sailboat drifting into the danger area near the launch pad. Warning areas are identified a week or more in advance of the launch by NASA, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The next launch window opens Tuesday at 6:22:38 p.m. and will hopefully be more boat-free. However, the additional light in the sky will make the launch more challenging to see, still worth a look if you've got access to a clear northeastern horizon or can put a couple of stories between you and the ground.

We also have another six minute long ISS pass to look for at Tuesday beginning at 7:37 p.m. from the northwest. The station will reach 25º above the horizon.

The rocket will carry a Cygnus spacecraft and its nearly 5,000 pounds of science, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbiting laboratory.

Among the science experiments aboard this flight is one that will use high-resolution video and image analysis of the atmosphere to learn about the size, density and chemical properties of meteoroid dust.

Scientists will use the data to improve our understanding of how the planets formed. Long-term measurements may also help spot previously unseen meteor showers.

To see the launch, look to the northeastern horizon beginning at 6:22 p.m. NASA’s free “Whats Up at Wallops” app for Android and iPhone/iPad has a compass that will help point you in the direction of the launch pad.
The curvature of the Earth will hide the rocket’s path from view here in central North Carolina for the first three minutes of flight. For a little more than a minute, the exhaust of the first stage will be visible above the horizon in the dusky sky.

After launch, Cygnus will continue ascending toward the station through the remainder of the week. On Sunday, Nov. 2, astronauts aboard the ISS will capture the spacecraft with the robotic arm and attach it to the station. Over the next month Cygnus’ role will change from cargo craft to orbiting dumpster. On Dec. 3, the hatch will be closed and Cygnus, along with about 3,000 pounds of trash, will safely burn up over the South Pacific.

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.

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