|Rocket Launch Viewing at Cape Canaveral
Delta 4, Atlas 5 & Falcon 9
|Homepage Launch Photos
Page updated December 11
This page covers all Cape Canaveral launches as of September 2011
This section outlines the next few launch dates for each of the three rockets:
The next United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral will launch NASA's next Tracking & Data Relay Satellite, TDRS-L, on January 23 at 9:05pm EST. The launch window stretches 40 minutes to 9:45pm EST. Following that, an Atlas 5 is scheduled to launch classified NROL-67 for the National Reconnaissance Office on March 25. That rocket will fly in the 541 version with four solid rocket boosters and a big payload fairing.
Delta 4 launch dates are currently TBD. The next United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral is likely a Delta 4 with GPS IIF-5 in February at the earliest. The vehicle will fly in the +4,2 configuration with two solid rocket motors. Following that, an identical rocket will launch Air Force Space Command AFSPC-4. The launch had been slated for February 27, with a window of 3:00-7:00am EST but is likely delayed to April at the earliest.
The next SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral will launch the Thaicom 6 satellite for Thailand on last week in December at the earliest, likely around or just after sunset. The launch window likely stretches around an hour. Following that, a Falcon 9 will launch the next Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station, CRS-3 or SpX-3, on February 22, likely in the early afternoon EST.
|A Delta 4 launch as seen from Port Canaveral. This version had no Solid Rocket Boosters and thus no smoke trail.|
Information on each launch, its launch date and the latest status on weather and technical issues during a launch countdown can be found at www.SpaceflightNow.com and the "mission status center" they provide each time. You can also watch the launch webcast live on your smartphone there (also in the status center), but keep in mind there is a 10-20 second delay. You should continue to check the status of the launch up until you leave your home, as well as afterwards on your smartphone. (If you do not own a smartphone, the best plan is to rely on others around you, but you can also try to receive up-to-the-minute text message launch updates on your cell phone via Twitter by texting "follow spaceflightnow" to 40404. To stop the texts, which is recommended after the launch is over, text "leave spaceflightnow.") Keep in mind Twitter's 40404 text service can be unreliable at times, so it is recommended that you just follow Twitter directly using an app or visiting their website. Updates may also be found on a couple of AM radio stations in the area as well, though they are usually on a 10-20 second delay also. And finally, for some launches, a scanner can pick up the countdown on 146.9400, a local radio repeater which rebroadcasts the official launch coverage audio. This may also be on a delay.
You can keep track of future Cape Canaveral launch dates right here on this page, or on their launch schedule.
If you have further questions, or want to know how to photograph launches, please ask.
|An Atlas 5 launch as seen from Playalinda Beach. This version had no SRBs and thus no smoke trail.|
|LAUNCH VIEWING: OVERVIEW
The following information outlines viewing options for each of the three rockets currently launching from Cape Canaveral (Delta 4, Atlas 5 and Falcon 9), followed by detailed sections on the viewing sites which they share. Note that each of those three vehicles uses its own separate launch pad (Complex 37B, 41 and 40, respectively). These three launch pads are separated by a few miles, so viewing is different for each one. I frequently get questions by email about which is the best rocket to come see. Unfortunately, this involves a more complicated answer than you might expect, as each of the three rockets can alternate for the winner of 'best viewing' depending on what time of day they are launching and whether the KSC Visitor Complex is offering tickets to get to an even closer spot, which only occurs for some launches. Read the sections below for more information.
DELTA 4 LAUNCH VIEWING
The best and generally closest viewing (see below) for Delta 4 launches off Pad 37B (Google Earth/Maps coordinates 28.531 N, 80.564 W) is from Port Canaveral on Route 401. This is the recommended spot for all Delta 4 launches; there is no closer location with a clear view of the launch pad that you can get to as of this time for Delta 4 launches. At 8.6 miles clear across water -- the Banana River -- the view is perfect and, depending on conditions, the sound and rumble can both be good, particularly for Delta 4-Heavy launches which are slow and allow the sound to linger. There is no major advantage in viewing Delta 4 launches from any other location; this is the best place overall. However, the KSC Visitor Complex is slightly closer and the view, while not as good, is also not terrible. And equally distant from the Port, the Saturn V Center, a stop on the bus tours they offer (read on) does offer a clear view and is also just over 8 miles from the pad. So that is also a good possibility if you prefer to combine your viewing with a tour of the space center. Please read on to find out more about this location. If tickets are ever sold in the future to view a Delta 4 launch from the NASA causeway (so far, this has not happened), this would be by far the best and closest option to take.
ATLAS 5 LAUNCH VIEWING
For Atlas 5 launches off Pad 41 (28.583 N, 80.583 W), Playalinda Beach is the closest and best spot, at 4.8 miles from the launch pad. This is the closest you can get to any Atlas 5 launch, anywhere, and the closest free or low cost ($5) viewing site for any rocket. However, it is not open for night launches (operating hours are normally 6:00am to 8:00pm during daylight savings time, and from 6:00am to 6:00pm during standard time in winter months. As of August, 2013, the beach is closed at 6:00pm every day due to government sequestration.)
The Saturn V Center museum (5.4 miles), a stop on the KSC Visitor Complex tours, is an excellent option as well for Atlas 5 launches, accessed by taking the bus tour at the Visitor Complex. Off-hours accommodation for viewing here is offered as well for some launches which are not during normal business hours. (See sections below.)
And finally, the NASA causeway, the famous viewing site of space shuttle launches, may be used in the future for the Atlas 5 (via ticketed bus transportation from the KSC Visitor Complex). Viewing from here is 5.0 to 5.2 miles from Pad 41. (See sections below.)
New interest in unmanned missions in the post-shuttle era will continue to see special operating hours and launch viewing tickets for certain launches sold through www.KennedySpaceCenter.com, for viewing at the Saturn V Center and/or NASA causeway in addition to the Visitor Complex itself. Be sure to sign up for information on those tickets and when they will go on sale for each launch.
For off-hours/night launches, where no tickets are being sold by the Visitor Complex, the best option for Atlas 5 launches will be Port Canaveral on Route 401, at 11.7 miles from the pad. This is a prime example of why, for example, an Atlas 5 launch can range from either the best & closest rocket you can go see, to the furthest. From Port Canaveral, Atlas 5 launches will be clearly visible but produce a low or moderate rumble at best due to the distance; the sound is likely to be better defined for Atlas 5 launches without solid rocket boosters as they are much slower, but they are also somewhat less visible, at least in the daytime, and especially so on a hazy day.
FALCON 9 LAUNCH VIEWING
For Falcon 9 launches off Complex 40 (28.562 N, 80.577 W), Port Canaveral (10.3 miles), Playalinda (6.3 miles) and the Saturn V Center (also 6.3 miles) are all options, and all but Playalinda offer clear views of the pad. (Playalinda may be a little obstructed depending on what spot you are in, including on the beach.)
Best of all, though, is the NASA causeway, which, at just 4.0 miles away, is the closest you can get to any rocket launch, period. When tickets are available to view a Falcon 9 from here, it is worth paying for. This viewing location has been offered twice so far (for the most recent two Falcon 9 launches as of mid-2013): for the first time in October 2012 for the Falcon 9 SpX-2 launch, and then again for the next one in March 2013. Again, this is the closest special viewing location yet available for any of the current rocket launches. I highly recommend paying extra to get close, if this spot is offered again for Falcon 9.
VIEWING SITE INFORMATION: DETAILS
Route 401 (28.419 N, 80.630 W) is the best spot for viewing at Port Canaveral. Launch viewers park their cars in the grass on the side of the road beginning a couple of hours before launch time. The same is done on 528 on the Banana River, where there is more room to spread out and for RVs, though this spot is about another half mile further back.
In mid-2013, a new observation tower opened at the Port with an outdoor viewing deck on top, providing an elevated view of the area. This tower could provide a different, elevated view for a launch. However, the tower is open only from 9am to 6pm and accommodates just 75 people maximum on the outdoor deck and some more on the inside area behind glass. Viewing is first-come, first-served, according to officials there. They do not stay open for launches at night or other times unless the space is rented privately. Admission is $7.
The closest and best spot for Atlas 5, and also an option for Falcon 9, is Playalinda Beach, but only if it is open, as detailed above. Parking (28.655N, 80.632 W) is located 5.8 miles from Atlas 5 Pad 41 and 7.2 miles from Falcon 9 Pad 40, and you can walk down the beach as far as to a distance of 4.8 miles (for Atlas 5) and 6.3 miles (for Falcon 9) and be even closer at the KSC security fence. Remember, night launches can be ruled out, as the beach and wildlife refuge are not open at night. It has also been closed for a few daytime launches in the past as well, such as the nuclear-powered Pluto and Mars Science Laboratory missions (for safety reasons), as well as a couple others, so pay attention to any closure notices issued ahead of time or contact the seashore/wildlife refuge visitor center on launch day. (Playalinda Beach is 8.5 to 9.3 miles from Delta 4's Pad 37B, and the view is partially or completely obstructed from here.) The entrance fee to Playalinda Beach is $5 per car.
THE KSC VISITOR COMPLEX, SATURN V CENTER and NASA CAUSEWAY
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (www.KennedySpaceCenter.com) is the independent museum and tour operator for the Kennedy Space Center. I highly recommend taking at least the main bus tour to see, up close, this incredible and historical place. Other tours to see different facilities up close are also offered. There is a general admission fee of $50 for adults (consider a $55 annual pass if you are a local resident) which includes the main bus tour and Saturn V Center in addition to all there is to see at the Visitor Complex (which as of June 2013 includes the retired Space Shuttle Atlantis). They also offer, for some launches, closer viewing locations (sometimes for an additional fee) such as the Saturn V Center or the NASA Causeway (read on for more information).
The Saturn V Center (28.605N, 80.669 W) - a stop on the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (VC) bus tour - offers a clear, 5.4 mile view of Atlas Pad 41 and 6.3 mile view of Falcon Pad 40. (At 8.1 miles from Delta 4's Pad 37B, there is no real advantage over Port Canaveral unless you want to do a tour on the same day as launch.)
The NASA Causeway is an excellent, when available, viewing option for any launch, especially Falcon 9 as noted above. This location (28.509 N, 80.605 W) offers a 5.0 to 5.2 mile view of Atlas 5 launches, and a very close 4.0 mile view of Falcon 9 launches (it was offered as an option for the first time for the Falcon 9 SpX-1 launch in October 2012 and again for the next in March 2013). This makes viewing a Falcon 9 rocket from here the closest option of any rocket launch. It also offers a 2.7 to 3.3 mile view of Delta 4 launches off Complex 37B. That super-close option for Delta 4 has not been made available to date, however.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSC VC) itself (28.523 N, 80.682 W) offers viewing (again, when open), but with no clear view of the pads themselves. You will only see the rocket once it has launched and cleared the trees and buildings in front of you. Between the three rockets, Delta IV is the best to be had from here in terms of the view, and specifically only from one area: The lawn behind the new Atlantis museum, which has a view up State Route 405 towards the pad, which is itself just barely hidden. (Television screens, or at least speakers with countdown audio are normally set up for launches at the Visitor Complex.) Distance from the Visitor Complex to Pad 37B is 7.1 miles; to Pad 40 is 6.7 miles; and to Pad 41 is 7.2 miles. Again, this offers little advantage over Port Canaveral for Delta 4/Pad 37B as Port Canaveral offers a superior view (think better photos) from just a mile further away.
OTHER PLACES: JETTY PARK & BEACHES
Once the one and only beautiful viewing site for Delta 2 and Atlas 2 & 3 launches, Jetty Park (28.4083 N, 80.5873 W) is no longer a good place to watch any rocket take off from Cape Canaveral. It is equally distant as Port Canaveral (Route 401) is from any of these three launch vehicles, so the same information/distances apply, but it offers no view of any of the launch pads which are hidden behind a low berm. You could happily view the launches from here or on the beach down the seashore as well, and it is still a beautiful place to watch, but the rocket will not become visible until it has cleared the tower and risen above the launch pad and berm directly across the inlet. If you are a photographer aiming for photos from here, be sure to plot out which way to look on the horizon using a program such as Google Earth. The park has a $5 entrance fee per car as of 2011. As you progress farther south along the beach, some launch pads do become a little more visible on the horizon due to perspective.
Titusville, anywhere on the Indian River along US 1 or Rt. 406, can be used to view any of these rocket launches as well, but is significantly farther than Port Canaveral is for all three launch pads (minimum 13 miles, maximum 16 miles, to Pad 41, 40 or 37B).
DIRECTIONS TO PORT CANAVERAL
From Daytona: Leave no later than two hours before launch (more if you are north of Daytona). Take I-95 south about 55 miles to Exit 205 The Beachline EAST towards "Canaveral: Cape-Port-AFS." Stay on for about 15 miles.
***There are two exits for Port Canaveral, the first is a big BLUE sign and the second is a big GREEN sign, marked exits A and B respectively. Take the first exit, the giant BLUE sign marked TERMINAL A (North Terminals, etc; this is also Rt. 401). A smaller sign notes this is the exit for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The exit loops around on the right. You will then go over a drawbridge. About 1/4 mile later, the road both curves sharply to the right and passes under an overpass at the same time. Pull off on the left (water) side of the road. Parking is allowed here for launches and will fill up close to launch time, so arrive at least an hour beforehand
From Orlando: Take Rt. 528 The Beachline EAST towards Cape Canaveral. Follow all the way (stay to the right when the highway forks) to the cruise ship terminals at Port Canaveral. Follow same *** directions as above, looking for the BLUE sign.
From South on I-95: Take I-95 north to Exit 205 The Beachline EAST towards "Canaveral: Cape-Port-AFS." Stay on for about 15 miles. Follow same *** directions as above, looking for the BLUE sign.
From Cocoa Beach or South on A1A: Follow A1A north. A1A will slowly curve to the left as you drive through the town of Cape Canaveral, passing a US Post Office and a McDonald's, both on the right. Just as A1A starts becoming a bigger highway (it becomes Rt. 528 the Beachline headed towards Orlando) you will get to the exit for the cruise terminals (the BLUE sign exit as named above). A small sign points to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) as being that exit as well. Exit, go over the drawbridge and following the *** directions as above.
DIRECTIONS TO PLAYALINDA BEACH
From Daytona: Leave no later than two hours before launch (more if you are north of Daytona). Take I-95 south about 40 miles to Exit 220 (Rt. 406). Turn left off the exit ramp.
***Follow 406 all the way across the bridge and into Merrit Island NWR. Stay on the road (now Beach Road) all the way to the end. There is a $5.00 entrance fee before you reach the beach. Park and walk out onto the beach. You can walk as much as nearly a mile south before reaching the KSC security fence.
From Orlando: Take Rt. 528 The Beachline EAST towards Cape Canaveral. Look for the fork in the highway and take the left fork towards Titusville and Kennedy Space Center. Next, exit on I-95 north, and go to Exit 220 (Rt. 406). Turn right off the exit ramp and follow *** directions as above.
From South on I-95: Take I-95 north to Exit 220 (Rt. 406). Turn right off exit ramp and follow same *** directions as above.
From Cocoa Beach or South on A1A: Follow A1A north. A1A will slowly curve to the left and become Rt. 528, the Beachline (formerly Beeline). Stay on 528 (you are going west) and then exit onto US 1 north. Proceed through Titusville and look to turn right on Garden Street (Rt. 406). Continue straight to the beach as indicated *** above.
DIRECTIONS TO THE KSC VISITOR COMPLEX
From Daytona: Take I-95 South for about 40 miles to Exit 215 and go left and then turn right at the first light. Now on Route 405, go straight all the way to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (several miles past the Astronaut Hall of Fame). The Visitor Complex is located right before the security entrance to KSC, and cannot be missed.
From Orlando: Take the Beachline (Rt. 528) east until the highway forks. Take the left fork (the signs direct you to Titusville and Kennedy Space Center). You are now on Rt. 407, the Challenger Memorial Parkway. When the road ends after several miles, turn right. You are now on Rt. 405, also called Columbia Blvd. Follow as above.
From South on I-95: Exit 212 north on Route 407 and follow as above, turning right onto 405 at the end of 407.
From Cocoa Beach or South on A1A: Follow A1A north. A1A will slowly curve to the left and become Rt. 528, the Beachline (formerly Beeline). Stay on 528 (you are going west) and then exit SR-3 north (Courtney Parkway). Proceed north six miles to the final light before the security gate, Space Commerce Way. You must turn left here. At the end of this windy road, turn right. Entrance is on the right, and cannot be missed.
PHOTOS OF DELTA 4 LAUNCHES FROM PORT CANAVERAL
The photo at the top of this page of a Delta 4 was taken with a zoom lens
Daytime - wide angle
Daytime, D4Heavy - strong telephoto
Sunset - very wide angle
PHOTOS OF ATLAS 5 LAUNCHES FROM PORT CANAVERAL
Daytime, with SRBs - actual view
Sunrise, with SRBs - actual view
Daytime, no SRBs - zoomed in
Daytime, with SRBs - strong telephoto
PHOTOS OF ATLAS 5 LAUNCHES FROM PLAYALINDA BEACH
Daytime, no SRBs - zoomed and wide
Daytime, no SRBs - zoomed in a little
Daytime, with SRBs - zoomed in
Daytime, no SRBs - actual, from Beach road closer to Titusville
PHOTOS OF ATLAS 5 LAUNCHES FROM SATURN V CENTER
Daytime, with SRBs - actual view
Daytime, with SRBs - wide angle
PHOTOS OF FALCON 9 LAUNCHES FROM NASA CAUSEWAY
Daytime - Telephoto and what the eye sees
PHOTOS OF FALCON 9 LAUNCHES FROM PORT CANAVERAL
Daytime - closer to actual
Daytime - zoomed in
VIDEOS OF DELTA 4 LAUNCHES FROM PORT CANAVERAL
Daytime, with SRBs - actual view
NEW! - VIDEOS OF DELTA 4 LAUNCHES FROM VISITOR COMPLEX
Post-sunset, with SRBs - wide angle view
Taken from Atlantis museum's lawn looking up SR 405. Pad is just barely hidden.
VIDEOS OF ATLAS 5 LAUNCHES FROM PLAYALINDA BEACH
Daytime, with SRBs - zoomed in
Daytime, with SRBs - wide angle
Daytime, with SRBs - taken from Beach Road leading to beach
VIDEOS OF ATLAS 5 LAUNCHES FROM SATURN V CENTER
Daytime, with SRBs - actual view
Daytime, with SRBs - wide angle
VIDEOS OF ATLAS 5 LAUNCHES FROM PORT CANAVERAL
Daytime, with SRBs - very wide angle, from Rt. 528
VIDEOS OF FALCON 9 LAUNCHES FROM PORT CANAVERAL
Daytime, with SRBs - Taken from NASA causeway; identical to Port Canaveral but sound takes longer to reach