Scope Diagram Astrocamera.Net - Astrophotography by Dave Kodama

SpaceX / Iridium 4 Launch
22 Dec. 2017

These are some selected shots of a SpaceX / Iridium launch. The payload was satellites 31 - 40 of the new generation of Iridium satellites. For this launch, SpaceX did not attempt to recover the 1st stage, which was a previously flown older model of the Falcon 9. Instead it was allowed to fall into the Pacific, presumably because SpaceX has a surplus of boosters and higher cost of refurbishing the older model. ... It still seems like a big waste!

Since this was a launch just after sunset, the upper portion of the contrail was illuminated by the sun, making a traffic-stopping display for the southern California Friday evening rush hour. This time-lapse video shows the wide angle view of the launch. At the very end of the video, the Falcon 9 booster can be seen to be lighting up as it executes a reentry burn toward the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX did not recover this older booster.

Closeup (telephoto) views are below:

Early phase of the launch, prior to separation of 1st and 2nd stages. This is before the rocket was high enough to be lit up by the sun

After separation of the first stage, the wide-angle view looked like a giant fish or microscopic organism chasing the crescent moon at upper left. The second stage and payload are at the tip of the cloud, and the bright dot just back of the tip is the first stage, firing maneuvering thrusters, as can be seen in the telephoto views below.

After separation, the 2nd stage and payload push on to orbit while the 1st stage maneuvers for reentry.


The 2nd stage pushes on as the 1st stage falls toward the Pacific Ocean. In the foreground is Catalina Island off the coast of southern California.

Photo info