United Launch Alliance (ULA) is less than 48 hours away from attempting to launch their sixth rocket this year, one which will carry a classified payload into orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The mission, designated as NROL-15, is scheduled to launch atop a mammoth 235-foot tall Delta-IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex-37 Friday morning, June 29. Weather permitting, the Delta-IV Heavy will thunder off on 2.4 million pounds of thrust from its seaside launch pad at 6:13 a.m., minutes before sunrise. NROL-15 marks the third of four planned NRO launches for 2012, and the second of three NRO launches in six weeks.
Click here to read our in-depth article on the classified NROL-15.
For those interested in witnessing this launch in person, there are several locations along Florida’s Space Coast that offer great vantage points to watch the launch from, but some places are better than others. Cape Canaveral covers a lot of ground, so a location that is good for watching one type of rocket lift off might not necessarily be the best place for watching another.
For those wanting to watch this mission launch in person, Port Canaveral offers the best publicly accessible viewing location. Anywhere along the SR-528 Bennett Causeway or along Route 401 behind the Port will do the job of offering a great view of the rocket’s push to send NROL-15 into orbit. Although the distance from the launch site (SLC-37) to Port Canaveral is nearly 9 miles, the concussive sound waves from the Heavy’s three core boosters will still rattle your bones and offer a fantastic view. This rocket is sporting new engines specifically designed to carry the unusually heavy payload into orbit, and is currently the most powerful rocket in the world. Anywhere along HWY-1 in Titusville also presents some fantastic public viewing areas for this launch vehicle, but the distance is considerable farther from SLC-37 than Port Canaveral. If you want to see this launch in person, Port Canaveral is your best bet.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be opening one hour early on launch day to offer guests on-site viewing opportunities on a first-come, first-serve basis. Launch viewing is included with general admission (there is no additional cost to watch the launch from KSC property). Call 866-737-5235 for more information.
HOW TO GET TO PORT CANAVERAL: Take SR-528 or the “Beachline” as it is commonly known as from the west, AIA from the east (A1A turns into SR-528 if you’re coming from Cocoa Beach). Take ‘”Exit A North Terminals” and follow the road (Route 401) across the small drawbridge and around the curve which brings you behind the port. On the left side of the road is where you can watch the launch from. Best part? It’s free! Space is limited, so arrive early. you can also skip the port all together and watch the launch from the grassy field areas along the SR-528 Bennett Causeway, just keep an eye out for other people and vehicles parked along the waters edge.
Launch forecasts currently call for a 70% chance of favorable conditions expected at T-0 Friday morning, with the primary concern being a chance of violating the cumulous and thick clouds rule over the launch site. Forecasts call for much of the same for a second launch attempt June 30, if needed. Having passed a Launch Readiness Review earlier this week, teams will begin final operations to ready the rocket for launch Thursday evening beginning with moving the Mobile Service Tower away from the Delta-IV Heavy. Launch was scheduled for Thursday morning, but tropical storm Debby has been drenching the state with several inches of rain over the last several days and forced teams to delay at least 24 hours. The storm has now picked up speed as it moves offshore and is expected to clear the area this evening. Due to the secretive nature of the mission there are no official details available concerning the payload or the mission itself. Launch coverage will only be provided through the first few minutes of flight, as is standard for all NRO launches.