United Launch Alliance is readying to launch the second Advanced Extreme High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellite for the USAF atop an Atlas-V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41 this Thursday. The $1 billion satellite is scheduled to take to the skies in the afternoon during a launch window which opens at 2:46 p.m. EDT and closes at 4:46 p.m. EDT.
When it comes to viewing launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 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, Playalinda Beach easily offers the best publicly accessible viewing location. Playalinda offers an unobstructed view of the Atlas rocket on the pad along with providing a front row seat from a distance of about 5 miles. It will set you back a whopping $5.00 to get into Playalinda Park. The park closes at sunset, which will not be an issue for this launch being that it’s scheduled to lift off in the afternoon. Contact their office at 321-267-1110 for information concerning viewing the Atlas-V AEHF launch May 3rd.
Another popular public viewing location to witness the Atlas rocket take flight is from Port Canaveral. 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 AEHF into orbit. However, at a distance of over 10 miles, the sound isn’t nearly as powerful as a view from Playalinda Beach would offer. Anywhere along HWY-1 in Titusville also presents some fantastic public viewing areas for this launch vehicle, but again the distance of over 10 miles from SLC-40 will present a viewer with a low rumble rather than a powerful concussive sound people associate with a rocket launch.
HOW TO GET TO PLAYALINDA BEACH: Take U.S. HWY-1 through Titusville and turn right at Garden Street / Route 406. Go across the A Max Brewer Parkway bridge and follow the road all the way to its end at Playalinda Beach. There are lots for parking, just take a walk and choose your spot to enjoy the launch.
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.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is offering guests prime viewing from the Apollo / Saturn-V Center on a first-come, first-serve basis. The location lies roughly the same distance from SLC-41 as Playalinda Beach, and offers the public the best view of the launch other than Playalinda Beach. From Playalinda you would be on the beach, from the Apollo / Saturn-V Center on KSC property you would be seated in the same stands where VIP’s used to watch the space shuttles launch from. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opens at 9am EST, and additional viewing opportunities will be available at the Visitor Complex itself, although that location is not ideal for watching any rocket launch. Call 866-737-5235 for more information.
Launch forecasts call for a 60% chance of favorable weather at T-0, with a 40% chance of unfavorable weather on both May 3rd and 4th due to violations of the cumulus clouds and anvil clouds rule. AEHF-2 will provide top secret communications capabilities to all branches of the U. S. military, Special Forces Command, and Strategic Command as well as critical civilian agencies like the CIA. The satellite will also serve the highly classified needs of the British, Canadian, and Dutch military.
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