While I was on my Space Coast Road Trip, I was lucky enough for there to be a SpaceX launch scheduled. I had my fingers crossed because I visited the Space Coast three times last year and each time there was a launch that rescheduled. While I was in Port Canaveral on Tuesday, perhaps there was an omen – the last Faclon-9 booster to launch came back into port. On Thursday, the weather was fine, there were no problems, and the launch was neither rescheduled or scrubbed. On this launch, there was also a bonus – since the launch was going down Florida’s east coast, they were landing the booster at LZ-1 at Cape Canaveral SFS.
Since I have an annual National Parks Pass, I decided to watch the launch from Playalinda Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore, which put me about 8.5 miles away from the launch site: SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral SFS. I took three handheld scanners for monitoring the launch communications and the DSLR with a 500mm zoom lens to get some photos of the launch. I didn’t try to take any photos of the landing; I saw a Space Shuttle launch so I knew what to expect from the launch, but I’ve never seen a booster landing in person and wanted to experience it without being distracted by trying to get a photo. I got to the beach around 8 AM local, about 2.5 hours before the 10:25 AM scheduled launch. There weren’t too many people on the beach at that point, but there were plenty there by launch time (I think they filled up the parking lots of three beach access points). In the third photo below, you can see SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral SFS in the distance to the south, SLC-40 is about two miles farther south.
While passing time and listening to launch preparation communications on the radios, I enjoyed watching the surf and birds along the beach. Pelicans seemed to be patrolling the surf while shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones and Willets were foraging along beach. The Space Coast beaches are far more beautiful than the beaches at home here in Coastal Georgia; the water is a beautiful blue-green color instead of the mud-colored water at our beaches.
Unfortunately, I didn’t hear any VHF Airband or UHF MilAir communications related to the launch. I did hear some launch related activity on the Kennedy Space Center P25 trunking system and the USAF (157) P25 trunking system. The best way to keep track of the launch clock and status was listening to TG 411 of the KSC system; it was in use by tracking/camera crews and they periodically called the clock out. Other related talkgroups were TG 743 on the KSC system and TG 48351 on the USAF (157) system. US Coast Guard Range Control traffic was on Marine VHF 81 (157.075 MHz) and Marine VHF 22 (157.100 MHz). SpaceX’s UHF DMR trunking system was very busy before and after the launch, but the activity was encrypted; active talkgroups were TG 101, TG 102, TG 104, TG 110, and TG 118. TG 101, TG 102, and TG 104 were also active (and also encrypted) on the SpaceX 900 MHz DMR trunking system.
The reason the launch photos below look washed out is due to the position of the sun during the launch. At that time of the morning, shooting the launch to the south was almost shooting into the sun.
As I mentioned above, I don’t have any photos of the landing, but the landing is something to behold. The launch wasn’t as spectacular as the Space Shuttle launch I saw, but the landing is something that TV or streaming video just doesn’t do justice. It’s really something you should see in person. It’s awesome to watch the booster adjust its course and the burns slow the booster down and hear the sonic boom the descent creates. If you get a chance to watch a launch with a booster landing at the Cape instead of one of the drone ships, take it – you won’t be disappointed.