Iridium Launch Observation

From: Brian Webb (102670.1206@compuserve.com)
Date: Mon Feb 11 2002 - 18:52:16 EST

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    Hi All:
    
    I had a fine view of today's Delta II/Iridium launch from Vandenberg
    AFB. I was on Santa Ynez peak, a 4,290 foot high mountain located 64
    kilometers east-southeast of the pad.
    
    The sky had a very thin layer of clouds at about 25,000 feet with
    some haze near the horizon. It was also suprisingly warm (about 72
    degrees F). It was clear enough for me to see the coast and I could
    either see the Delta II pad or a nearby structure on the base.
    
    A very busy air traffic corridor parallels the California coast and
    lies west of my viewing site. This morning there were several jets and
    contrails visible. At T-45 minutes I noticed that there were no planes
    or vapor trails visible in the west. This was obviously due to the
    airspace west of Vandenberg having been closed.
    
    I could easily see ignition of the solid rocket motors while the Delta
    was on the pad. The solids produced a very bright orange flame and a
    thick, white smoke trail.
    
    The vehicle climbed and the flame from the solids grew longer. After
    the last solid motors were jettisoned, the Delta II first stage
    created a hazy, mostly transparent contrail and was hard to see.
    
    I lost sight of the vehicle at about T+ 2 min. 20 sec. Shortly
    afterward I heard a distant rumble from the launch. A few minutes
    after that, I heard a faint popping noise from up in sky towards the
    west-southwest*. This may have been from the solid rocket motors.
    
    On my drive down the mountain, I saw three short, tadpole-shaped
    contrails in the sky towards the west-southwest. The thick end of the
    trails pointed downrange and were ring-shaped (they looked like the
    eye of a needle). These were probably caused by the jettison of the
    solid rocket motors.
    
    I took several photos. Hopefully I got at least one good photo.
    
    All in all, it was a nice show.
    
    Regards,
    
    Brian Webb
    
    *Rick Baldridge and I heard a similar popping noise from Santa Ynez
    Peak following last October's Titan IV launch.
    
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