RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Save the date to see a rocket launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility Tuesday, November 19. The next launch's light should be easy to spot from central Virginia.
It is scheduled for sometime during the "launch window" of 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Night launches are much easier to spot for us inland, as you can locate the swiftly moving, small white light to our east heading out over the Atlantic into space.
So what are they launching? It's a Minotaur I rocket, which looks like this:
IMAGE: Orbital Sciences Corporation
Here's the visibility map for our region, where if you have clear skies, you should be able to see the white light in the distance that is the rocket:
MAP: NASA Wallops Flight Facility
Good news! Based on our forecast, skies should be clear in our region for this launch after the strong cold front sweeps through Monday, November 18.
This rocket was developed by Orbital Sciences for the United States Air Force (USAF) "to provide a cost-effective, reliable and flexible means of placing small satellites into orbit."
A whole bunch of small satellites are being carried on this particular mission. NASA Wallops says, "The Minotaur will launch...28 small cubesat satellites," including the first cubesat built by high school students and also 13 of NASA's Small Satellite Program PhoneSat 2 second generation smartphone mission.
IMAGE: NASA Ames Research Center
As cool as these tiny satellites are, the Minotaur's primary payload is the Space Test Program Satellite-3 (STPSat-3). This is an Air Force technology demonstration mission.
So what's with the fancy names ORS-3 and STPSat-3? They are NASA-speak for an "enabler mission," which in layman's speak means it will prove it can do important and complicated space tasks. Tasks like "automated trajectory targeting, range safety planning and flight termination systems."
A successful launch will also get brownie points from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) certification process for the Minotaur rocket. (They need the stamp of approval from the FAA because that entity has licensing authority over American commercial rockets. No certification? No launching!).
Mission Name: Operationally Responsive Space-3 (DOD)
Launch Vehicle: Minotaur I
Launch Pad: MARS Pad 0B
Target Date: Nov. 19
Launch Window: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
For more information on the ORS-3 mission, visit: http://go.usa.gov/Wgbd
For information on NASA's Cubesat Launch Initiative, managed by the Launch Services Program, visit: http://go.usa.gov/WgbR