Pegasus/TRACE Launch

Brian Webb (
Thu, 2 Apr 1998 21:47:26 -0500

On Wednesday evening I was fortunate to have a nearly unobstructed view of the
Pegasus/TRACE launch off of California's central coast. I also took several very
good photos. A great evening!

I left my office in Camarillo at 15:40 PST and began driving towards Santa
Barbara (about 55 minutes away). While enroute, I called a weather forecaster on
my cell phone and got an update on the weather. It was mostly clear at Vandenberg
and the clouds were moving northwest to southeast. I was advised to stay away
from the high mountains above Santa Barbara and get near the beach.

When I got to Santa Barbara, the mountains were indeed shrouded by clouds. From
the highway I spotted a very high hill to the west and began heading towards it.

I got to the top of the hill and found a good observation/photo point. At first
it was quite cloudy. Over time, it began to clear. When the launch window
openned, the west was almost totally clear.

The launch window openned, and we saw nothing. Launch time came and went and we
saw nothing. About two minutes before the end of the window, I got ready to carry
my gear back to the car.

My friend Elaine then yelled "There it is!" Low on the northwest horizon, a very
bright contrail appeared. It was the Pegasus, and it was moving fast, much faster
that a Delta II or other vehicle.

As it climbed, the contrail began to spread out to form a plume. At the very
front was a tiny, bright light source.

We observed stage 2/3 separation and watched the third stage keep going. The
third stage had a smaller, wedge-shaped exhaust plume.

Then the third stage went out. Meanwhile, high altitude winds had already begun
to twist the contrail. The top part of the trail had colored fringes (weakly

I quickly drove back to Thousand Oaks and walked into the photo lab at 20:05. The
techs were getting ready to shut things down, but agrred to process my film.

Forty minutes later I held my breath and looked at the prints. Beautiful! I was
rewarded with several interesting high quality photos*.

A great launch!!!


Brian Webb
Thousand Oaks, California

*Photo set-up was a 135mm lens, tripod, Fujicolor 800. Exposures were 1/30th sec
at f/4.