Times You Wish You Had a Camera

Last night I was at the shop relatively late doing some modeling for our next generation vehicle (now that we’ve got all the parts ordered for the current generation vehicle and are just finishing up the assembly and moving into testing). The guys had set up a grill outside to make some food since Taco Bell loses its novelty way too fast. Dave had mentioned that the NRO was going to be launching a bird on a Delta IV hopefully sometime last night, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Vandenburg is probably around 200 miles from Mojave, so I figured you wouldn’t likely be able to see much of anything without binoculars or a telescope. I had just grabbed a sausage off the grill, and had stepped inside to grab a bottle of water when the other guys started shouting for me to come outside.

I’m glad I did.

Apparently I was completely wrong. The view was absolutely amazing. The timing of the launch couldn’t have been better (from a spectator in Mojave’s standpoint). The contrails from the first part of the first-stage burn, prior to the start of the gravity turn, were clearly visible, and happened to catch the light from the sunset just right to look like a several mile high pillar of fire. We all just stood there watching for at least a minute or so, all the way to the shutoff for the first stage, at which point the trajectory passed behind some clouds and we lost sight of the vehicle.

Dang that was cool! Boeing may not know how to make a low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicle, but at least they know how to put on quite an amazing show. I’d pay at least $10 to see something like that again.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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7 Responses to Times You Wish You Had a Camera

  1. John Hare says:

    In the 80s, construction crews in central Florida took shuttle breaks to watch from 100 or so miles. Challenger really dampened the spirit of that activity.

  2. badger says:

    Jon, from greater Van Nuys we could see a glowing thing followed by contrail, then just a glow with no contrail moving across the blue sky — then a burst that I guess was stage separation that made a giant cone shape and left a white cloud behind the glow, which kept on going until it was over the hill. Several joggers on my street were alerted to the interesting UFO by this observer.

  3. Rockets4Real says:

    Jon,

    With regards to your comment of:
    “Boeing may not know how to make a low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicle, but…..”

    As far as I can tell no one knows how to make a low-cost high reliability launch vehicle. I have heard a lot of hype about such launch vehicles, but have not actually seen one.

    Having integrated payloads onto both Titan and Atlas rockets, and witnessing several spectacular rocket launches, I can absolutely agree with your sentiments about paying money to watch that kind of a show – there is nothing in the world that compares with that kind of raw power and technical majesty.

  4. Jon Goff says:

    Rockets4real,
    With regards to your comment of:
    “Boeing may not know how to make a low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicle, but…..”

    As far as I can tell no one knows how to make a low-cost high reliability launch vehicle. I have heard a lot of hype about such launch vehicles, but have not actually seen one.

    Well, in that case it isn’t much of a slam, is it? Seriously though, their Zenit Sea Launch setup is one of the better current deals going, and they do have a lot of good commercial oriented talent. Right now, the main reason why Boeing and Lockheed haven’t done too much more to radically reduce launch prices and increase reliability is that there is no real economic incentive (and in fact many disincentives) for them to reduce prices. If they sink a bunch of money into an RLV, it’s likely to cut into the revenue before it actually starts creating enough a market to grow their revenue.

    It isn’t that they’re dumb or incompetent.

    But yeah, nothing compares with rocket generated hot flamey stuff.

    ~Jon

  5. Bill White says:

    Jon Goff wrote:

    Right now, the main reason why Boeing and Lockheed haven’t done too much more to radically reduce launch prices and increase reliability is that there is no real economic incentive (and in fact many disincentives) for them to reduce prices.

    And that is pretty much the whole story in one good sentence. Nicely said, er . . . typed, whatever.

  6. qwerty182764 says:

    With regards to your comment of:
    “Boeing may not know how to make a low-cost, high-reliability launch vehicle, but…..”

    I’m not sure exactly what you want from them. The Delta IV is pretty good, as far as rockets go. It is simple, and has vehicle health monitoring out the yang. The only reason why it’s not lower cost, is because of low launch volume. If launch volume increased sufficiently, the development cost would be spread. Rockets have always been stuck in the bad end of the marginal cost curve.

  7. Jon Goff says:

    Qwerty,
    I may have been a bit overly snarky with my comment (especially considering their Zenit SeaLaunch program), but the best that can really be said for Delta IV is that it could be slightly cheaper than existing expendable vehicles if it were flown a whole bunch of times….

    …to me that sounds like damnation by faint praise.

    ~Jon

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