Justin FoleyJun 15, 2019

LightSail 2 Launch Viewing: Tips & Tricks

There is nothing quite like seeing a rocket launch up close and personal. How do you do it?

LightSail 2 is launching on the next SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is one payload of many on the mission known collectively as STP-2. The U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program (STP) develops and tests advanced technologies in space.

Launch Pad & Viewing Locations

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. If you keep your eyes to the sky, you'll see the boosters re-enter the atmosphere and land several minutes after launch at Landing Zone 1 & 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (see map below).

The easiest way for Planetary Society members to get a guaranteed viewing spot is via the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex using one of two strategies.

If you happen to miss ticket sales, the following map produced by Supercluster provides the best locations for public viewing of the launch. Download the PDF or click to enlarge the image.

Kennedy Space Center launch viewing map
Kennedy Space Center launch viewing map SUPERCLUSTER.com

Staying Informed

  • Cell service can be hit or miss around launch facilities. Add on top of that the additional thousands of people that show up to launches, and it’s even worse.
  • Push notifications from Twitter are the most reliable way I’ve found to get late-breaking updates on your phone. Get a twitter account and follow @spaceflightnow and @spacex, and then set up the profiles to send you notifications when they post.
  • You can try to view the live video stream on your phone but it may not work well and I don’t recommend it. Also, keep in mind the video stream has a significant delay.
  • Note the launch time and use a reliable clock. I like the Emerald Time iOS app which offers an atomic clock sync and a display with seconds.

Travel

  • If you need to fly to get to the launch site, you’ll find timing flights with a launch can be challenging. You want to book flights early to get the best price, but launch schedules tend to be unpredictable. Some airlines allow you to change your flight reservation with little or no fee. I typically use Southwest and book my flights about a month out.
  • Use the same philosophy with hotels. Many hotels allow you to cancel up to 24 hours before check-in, but many don’t! Keep this in mind when looking for a reservation.
  • Plan to arrive no later than the day before the launch. You don’t want to be rushing around when you arrive, and you want to be well-rested to stay safe and have fun.
  • I recommend staying for 3 full days—that way, if the launch slips by up to 48 hours you’re covered. I’ve also been to launches that slipped 24 hours twice. The worst-case scenario is that the launch happens on time and you have to kill some time at the beach for a couple of days!
  • Published launch dates and times should always be considered No Earlier Than (NET) predictions.

Photography/Videography

  • If this is your first launch, and all you have is a cell phone, put it away! There will be hundreds of cameras much bigger and more expensive than yours pointed at the rocket and most of that video will be freely available online. Don’t travel all the way there and then watch it through a little screen!
  • If you want a closer look, binoculars are a good option, especially if you can see the pad from your viewing location.
  • Watch it with your eyes, hear it with your ears, feel the power, and live in the moment.
Falcon Heavy rocket launch
Falcon Heavy rocket launch A closeup of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket which launched on February 6, 2018 from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL from the historic launchpad, 39A. Ryan Chylinski / Spaceflight Insider

Other Tips

  • Plan to arrive early! For a highly anticipated launch like this one, I’d aim to arrive several hours before launch time. If you plan to go to Playalinda Beach, consider arriving as soon as their gates open in the morning. If you go to Jetty Park or another campground, consider camping out the night before. These parks fill up very quickly! First and foremost, get yourself there safe, get situated, and relax.
  • Safety is a top priority! If it is a night launch, you’ll be driving around in the dark and probably tired, especially if you’ve been traveling. Watch out for your fellow spectators and obstacles and use caution when parking on the side of the road.
  • Leave your parking lights on (not your headlights!) when parked on the side of the road to make your vehicle more visible while waiting for a launch in the dark.
  • Sometimes local law enforcement or base security will be out and about checking on spectators. Comply with any instructions.
  • You don’t have to leave right away after the launch. In fact, you'll miss a lot of traffic if you wait around and enjoy the atmosphere for a bit. For Falcon Heavy, stay and try to see the boosters land just a few minutes after launch. Keep in mind there may be photographers in your area doing videos or long exposure photography at night. Traffic can be thick after launch. Just hang out and take it easy.
  • Check the weather forecast before you go and dress appropriately. If it’s going to be cloudy, keep in mind you may not see the rocket, but if you’re close enough you’ll still hear it just the same, and that’s AWESOME. Partly cloudy or high clouds make night launches even more of a visual spectacle.
  • Be prepared for the launch to get delayed or scrubbed (canceled for the day). It happens all the time. Unless you live at the launch site it’s impossible to guarantee you’ll see the launch as planned. Kennedy has a fantastic Visitor Complex to satisfy your space cravings.
  • Have fun!

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