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What did I just see?

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#26 jc_colorado

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 09:01 AM

So what exactly was happening? Second stage exhausting it’s fuel and preparing to drop down and eventually burn up? Now that we know what it was, I’m wondering what it was doing....

This is what I would like to understand as well.  I went back and watch the launch video through deployment of the satellite and would love to better understand to explain to my wife and 9 year who got to observe it as well what exactly we were witnessing.  Thank you.

 

From https://www.spacex.com/launches/

 

HR/MIN/SEC EVENT
00:01:11 Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:31 1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:35 1st and 2nd stages separate
00:02:42 2nd stage engine starts (SES-1)
00:03:27 Fairing deployment
00:06:47 1st stage entry burn complete
00:08:07 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
00:08:35 1st stage landing
01:03:32 2nd stage engine starts (SES-2)
01:04:17 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
01:29:18 GPS III Space Vehicle 04 deployment


Edited by jc_colorado, 06 November 2020 - 09:04 AM.


#27 Eddgie

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 09:56 AM

Thanks.. There seems to be some confusion on my part.  On their web page they say this (emphasis by me):

 

 

On Thursday, November 5 at 6:24 p.m. EST, Falcon 9 completed its second mission this year for the United States Space Force when it launched the GPS III Space Vehicle 04 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

 

 

My video was done at 7:41 PM CST. so if launch was 6:24 PM EST, that would have made liftoff at 5:24 PM CST and the recording would be 2 hours and 35 minutes after launch

 

So, this does not appear to be covered by the above timeline.  Possibly it was a deceleration burn to de-orbit the stage?

 

A de-orbit burn over Texas would probably put the re-entry into the atmosphere over the Atlantic. 


Edited by Eddgie, 06 November 2020 - 09:58 AM.

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#28 austin.grant

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 10:56 AM

Hey Eddgie,

 

From the video posted earlier and other sites, the gps satellite wasn't deployed until approximately 90-minutes after launch. They also mention during the live stream right before deployment that, "currently the second stage is rotating to stabilize the gps-3 satellite." Might explain why we were seeing it rotating, and the burn could have been to exhaust remaining fuel and / or de-orbit. All speculation on my part, but it definitely seems to agree with the timeline. 



#29 Creedence

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 11:14 AM

That seems consistent with what I saw (not that I’m the expert on what defueling a rocket in orbit looks like). After observing it for the first 10 minutes or so I noticed the offgassing came and went. I observed the gas plumes eject for a little under a minute or so, then the gas faded away to nothing only to return again.

Edited by Creedence, 06 November 2020 - 11:14 AM.


#30 gatorengineer

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 01:27 PM

Phenomenon seems to have been observed from over 1000 miles apart (I was in New Franklin, MO).  All seemed to be at zenith.... must have been way up...



#31 CampbellJohn

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 02:16 PM

I observed this last night from my backyard near Wichita, Kansas. I saw it visually first then with 10 x 42 binoculars and finally with a C8 with 13mm and 40 mm eyepieces. The pictures others have shared match my detailed notes on what I observed over a period of 15 to 20 minutes. Thanks everyone for your comments. This was an exciting find, easily one of the best for me in 30 years of watching the night sky.



#32 Eddgie

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 02:19 PM

Well, if it was 90 minutes after launch and it launched at 6:25 EST (5:34 my time) and it was 90 minutes later (8:35 EST) that would be 7:05 my time and my phone time stamped it as 7:41.

 

That is what I mean... The times don't line up.

 

But it doesn't matter. It was cool to see.


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#33 StillLearning

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 02:43 PM

It appeared just north? (right side) of Vega from my line of sight at roughly 9:30pm from south central VA.

Sorry I didn't take better notes I was to busy staring in awe and yelling for my wife to come outside and look!

So were the sky conditions just right for us to be able to see this last night or should we expect this to happen again sometime?

#34 rowdy388

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 02:55 PM

Those pictures are simply amazing!



#35 Ryan5508

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 03:21 PM

I noticed the spot in the sky around 8:42p in Michigan. Almost straight up little to the west headed south.

I am happy some of you were able to catch this on camera.

#36 Eddgie

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 03:43 PM

For me it was quite near zenith. I was star hopping towards NGC 7331 when I saw it using regular eyesight, but it was very odd that it was this totally isolated cloud in an otherwise couldless sky.  For whatever reason, I decided to look at it.  I did not expect it to be anything at all other than a cloud, but I put the laser finder on it and when I looked into the eyepiece, I literally gasped.  It was all I could do to get my camera out and get some images.  I was just holding my phone to the eyepiece and trying to hold it still, so trying to manually track it would have been to difficult, so that is when I decided to let it drift through the field.  

 

Then I did the movie, and by the time I got back to it, it looked like the first picture I posted at the top of the thread (which was actually the last picture of it that I took).

 

I regret that I did not try to get more video, but again, near zenith it is hard to track with a Dob and even harder when you are trying to hold a phone up to the eyepiece.

 

It was pretty epic. You could see it changing the whole time. 



#37 SNH

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 04:39 PM

Thanks to Zane for quickly identifying it!

 

It was awesome and the best "display" by a satellite/rocket I've ever seen - and that's saying something considering I've seen (naked-eye) the ISS, the Space Shuttle, Geostationary satellites, and even a piece of space debris burn-up as it "slowly" went by. So way to go Eddgie for taking a picture of it because it was like watching the total solar eclipse of 2017 all over again - way too much visual beauty to take in in such a short time! I was mesmerized by seeing it slowing rotating.

 

I had been observing in Cygnus and Vulpecula for an hour with my telescope when I happened to look away from the eyepiece and at Cygnus. I wear glasses, but not when looking through the telescope. So normally all the brighter stars look quite de-focused when I look at the sky without them. But I could immediately tell that there was another de-focused star E of Deneb of about the same brightness. I put my glasses back on and much to my surprise, all the stars focused but it!

 

My first thought was: This must be what the LMC looks like from Chile!!! Then I stepped inside the House and got my family to all come out and look at it. The time was 7:42pm CST. It stayed naked-eye for about 15 minutes, so my guess is that when I first saw it, it hadn't been naked-eye for more than 10 minutes. At nearly 7pm, it seems the GPS III Space Vehicle 04 was separated from the second stage. So my best guess is that after doing its job, it vented fuel to slow it down so as to de-orbit and safely burn up someday? Here is a link to a document that tries to cover the other such sightings that have been made like this.YOU ALL SHOULD READ IT!

 

I saw it in far eastern Cygnus near the border with Lacerta. It was moving ENE at about a degree every 1.5 minutes and appearing to rotate once every 30 seconds - though I do thank Creedence for noting (something I missed) that it was rotating in the y axis and spinning in the x axis. In my 8x56 binoculars is was about 4 degrees across when at its brightest and largest. It appeared distinctly bluish. I observed it with two binoculars and my 5" f/5 (2 degree field) and 10" f/10 (1 degree field).

 

I'm just so glad I got to see it. I work hard to go out as often as I can and always hope I'll see something jaw dropping and unexplainable if I'm lucky.

 

Scott


Edited by SNH, 06 November 2020 - 04:55 PM.

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#38 ButterFly

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 05:12 PM

Here is a link to a document that tries to cover the other such sightings that have been made like this.YOU ALL SHOULD READ IT!

Pages 22 and 24 are rather scary!  That's a big chunk of garbage to fall on a house.
 


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#39 austin.grant

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Posted 06 November 2020 - 09:10 PM

I’m not implying that you captured the release of the gps satellite, which was the event at 90-minutes post launch. Sorry if you thought that. I just meant that the times lined up for whatever wrapping-up event happened next.

Well, if it was 90 minutes after launch and it launched at 6:25 EST (5:34 my time) and it was 90 minutes later (8:35 EST) that would be 7:05 my time and my phone time stamped it as 7:41.

That is what I mean... The times don't line up.

But it doesn't matter. It was cool to see.


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#40 wfj

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Posted 07 November 2020 - 01:12 AM

The point of venting the tanks on an upper stage like the F9US you observed is to passivate the stage usually before disposal. This is to minimize the risks of the spent rocket body both in terms of potential orbital debris(burst on orbit) and unpredictable terminal trajectory on reentry (pressure vessels/tanks releasIng as they burst, pushing the rocket body in a non-ballistic direction).

 

In the ideal case, the vehicle’s attitude and trajectory targets the ocean alerted with a NOTAM to keep out aircraft/ships, the pressure vessels and remaining fuel/oxidizer is vented, and the vehicle goes inert, then burns up with any residual falling into the ocean safely. The spiral seen is a butterfly vent that imparts roll/spinto the vehicle so that it hits the atmosphere in a passively spin stabilized (like a gyroscope) manner to minimize deviation after the vehicle loses maneuvering ability. Otherwise it would tumble. 


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#41 SNH

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Posted 07 November 2020 - 09:53 PM

The point of venting the tanks on an upper stage like the F9US you observed is to passivate the stage usually before disposal. This is to minimize the risks of the spent rocket body both in terms of potential orbital debris(burst on orbit) and unpredictable terminal trajectory on reentry (pressure vessels/tanks releasIng as they burst, pushing the rocket body in a non-ballistic direction).

 

In the ideal case, the vehicle’s attitude and trajectory targets the ocean alerted with a NOTAM to keep out aircraft/ships, the pressure vessels and remaining fuel/oxidizer is vented, and the vehicle goes inert, then burns up with any residual falling into the ocean safely. The spiral seen is a butterfly vent that imparts roll/spinto the vehicle so that it hits the atmosphere in a passively spin stabilized (like a gyroscope) manner to minimize deviation after the vehicle loses maneuvering ability. Otherwise it would tumble. 

Thanks, wfj. That all makes a lot sense. But if you don't mind my asking: How do you know so much about second stage reentry procedure of a rocket? Can you link us to a document or webpage to back up your statements? Just curious...

 

Thanks,

Scott



#42 haleakala

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Posted 09 November 2020 - 04:59 PM

Thanks, all. I was really wondering what I was seeing when I spotted this phenomena in dark skies outside Austin. It was on the east side of Cygnus for me. Best guess was a launch, but the huge spiral arms were unlike anything I had seen. Was incredible in binocs, but also saw the later movement of the object with my C8. 



#43 wfj

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Posted 10 November 2020 - 10:11 AM

Thanks, wfj. That all makes a lot sense. But if you don't mind my asking: How do you know so much about second stage reentry procedure of a rocket? Can you link us to a document or webpage to back up your statements? Just curious...

 

Thanks,

Scott

Worked as contractor for NASA/other govt on missions. Been at Vandenberg/CCAFS/other for their launch. Was at the then DFRC for Shuttle ALT tests. Know a bit about GNC. Even been in Apollo capsule and HSF simulators. One of six lives.
 

As to links, that’s an interesting challenge. Would take a few. For education, I recommend Sutton first to ground on propulsion. Although the math to explain WKS is where most get lost. Thank you General Schriever for challenging me, I hope I made it worth the hours spent back then. 


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#44 StanH

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Posted 10 November 2020 - 05:36 PM

Aw, man I missed it!  I was out stargazing but at 7:40 PM CST I had to take a break and went in the house.  Came back out at 7:50 and viewed the Pleiades before putting everything away.  frown.gif



#45 Hax

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Posted 10 November 2020 - 06:26 PM

Very cool shot!!

#46 Scrounger1

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Posted 11 November 2020 - 06:56 AM

I was in western North Carolina (near Franklin) just sweeping the skies with my new 10x50 IS binoculars when I saw this thing near Vega.  I literally said, "what in the world is THAT!"  It almost filled my 4.5 degree FOV.  Within 2 minutes it was visible to the naked eye.  I was, and am, astonished.  Thanks to everyone for their expert commentary and marvelous photos.


Edited by Scrounger1, 11 November 2020 - 08:47 AM.


#47 StillLearning

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Posted 11 November 2020 - 07:30 AM

Im still excited about seeing this! Anyone have a line of contact with Mr.Musk? I can forgive him for star link just as long as he keeps doing the cool spiral thingy in the sky! I need more cool spiral thingy in my life.
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#48 SNH

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Posted 20 November 2020 - 01:26 AM

Worked as contractor for NASA/other govt on missions. Been at Vandenberg/CCAFS/other for their launch. Was at the then DFRC for Shuttle ALT tests. Know a bit about GNC. Even been in Apollo capsule and HSF simulators. One of six lives.
 

As to links, that’s an interesting challenge. Would take a few. For education, I recommend Sutton first to ground on propulsion. Although the math to explain WKS is where most get lost. Thank you General Schriever for challenging me, I hope I made it worth the hours spent back then. 

Thanks, that easily proves your credentials! Since you explained it so well, I'll be quoting some of what you said for my observation logs.

 

Scott




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