Re: Pegasus WIRE Launch

Bart De Pontieu (
Fri, 5 Mar 1999 11:06:07 -0800 (PST)

Hi all,

I watched the WIRE launch from Palo Alto, on the roof of our office with
about a dozen of my colleagues. What we saw was very similar to Robert
Scheaffer's report yesterday. The first stage was as bright as Venus,
the reddish colour was the first thing that drew our attention. It went
upwards. A contrail was visible in binoculars, even
though I think it was in the shadow of the Earth at that time (maybe the
full moon?). After first stage cutoff we were all wowed by the second
stage which looked like a piece of the moon. It was really, really bright,
say -10 and ball-shaped, and going uowards.
It was so bright it showed a halo around it! Additionally, we also saw
slight colour changes (rainbow-like) across the ball, i.e. diffraction of
light. Pretty amazing stuff. It had us all cheering on. The ball became
more diffuse after 2nd stage cutoff, but it was still visible 10 minutes
later when we went back in! Some of us decided to wait out for the third
stage, though there was some skepticism whether we could see it from the
SF bay area. We did see it! It was still amazingly bright, probably about
like Venus, and the exhaust was cone-shaped this time. Two of us
immediately remarked it looked like Comet West, except that it was moving
fast :-) The third stage disappeared behind the horizon while it was still
'on', but we could see the tail sticking out from below the horizon. The
second stage 'ball' was still visible at this point. It was
interesting to see the first two stages going up and the third one
going down: orbital lifting at work :-)
This all happened in 10 minutes, so we were pretty psyched when we went
back in.

The launch looked very different from the TRACE/Pegasus launch last year.
That one was almost in daylight, so the contrails were brighter, but the
contrast was much less. Also, the large angular extent of the exhaust was
not visible.

Sadly, from what I've heard, it appears WIRE is in trouble right now --
tumbling, having possibly lost some of its hydrogen coolant :-(

       Bart in Palo Alto, California, USA at

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