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Why some rocket views from Jacksonville are better than others

Beyond weather, it is due to the flight path

This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company's Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. (SpaceX via AP)
This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company's Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. (SpaceX via AP) (For copyright and restrictions, refer to http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/guidelines/index.html)

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Weather is always a factor in seeing rocket launches from north Florida but even on clear days some have better views than others and it depends on the flight path. Northeast launch trajectories are better for viewing in Jacksonville.

You can expect to see more of these when rocket missions are targeting lower orbits or require lighter payloads.

Yet not all launches come our way.

When SpaceX uses the Falcon 9 rocket to launch payload into space, many times it will blast off directly east to gain additional propulsion from the earth’s rotation to boost heavier cargo or reach higher orbit altitudes. More fuel is needed during these types of flights to go farther and lift heavier.

The first stage booster returns back to Earth either landing upright on a drone ship or at a landing pad at Kennedy Space Center. But fuel needs to be conserved for the boost back engines that guide the returning first-stage rockets back to Earth.

Landing site selection depends on how much fuel is used up. Landing the first stage on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean burns up more fuel than landing a pad on Kennedy Space Center. So the trade-off requires reducing cargo capacity by roughly 12,125 pounds to conserve fuel for the drone ship return.

Often the drone ship is positioned about 300 miles east of Jacksonville to intercept the returning first stage. The zone is so close, initially, the drone vessel, Of Course I still Love You was homeported in Jacksonville.

People along the First Coast beaches are able to see the flare from the boost back engines by looking east from the beach about 8-10 minutes after launch on a clear day.

Unfortunately clouds today will likely obscure the sight.

The curvature of the earth will cause the bright flare to abruptly vanish a couple of degrees above the horizon.


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