SoCal Sky Lights!

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About Vandenberg SFB

Launch Schedule
A Tour Report
Other links

The Mission

Vandenberg Space Force Base is located near Lompoc, California, on the coast. The coast of California conveniently juts out into the Pacific at this point. This affords the Space Force and commercial customers very convenient access to westerly and southerly launch trajectories.

Launching a satellite to the west is not particularly desireable. Remember that the earth rotates to the east. At these latitudes, the earth's surface is moving at a pretty good clip, close to 1,000 miles per hour (don't tell the CHP!). If you launch to the west, you spend a lot of fuel cancelling out that initial velocity.

No, for launches to a conventional orbit, Vandenberg is not terribly useful. Most low inclination (more or less equatorial) orbit customers launch from Cape Canaveral instead, where they have a clear path to the east.

Instead, Vandenberg specializes in two kinds of launches: Polar orbits and missile tests. They are an ideal location for high inclination (more or less polar) orbits because of their clear path to the south. And the clear southwestern aspect allows them to launch Minuteman III and Peacekeeper missiles toward Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.

The Base

For more detail on the base, check out Vandenberg Space Force Base's web site. Some interesting notes:
  • Vandenberg SFB restarted their free guided tours on September 11, 2003. "Windshield" tours are provided, by reservation only, on the third Tuesday of the month, at 1:00 PM (increased threat levels or impending launches can affect this schedule). You must make a reservation in order to join a tour. They require you to make reservations at least 15 days in advance. When you call to make your reservation, be prepared to supply the names, drivers license or passport number, and birthdate of all attendees.

    Public tours of the museum are only offered quarterly.

    For more info, see their Tours FAQ page, or call (805) 606-3595.
    Feel free to check out a report of my June, 1998 tour
  • VSFB now offers some photos of the launches of a few different kinds of vehicles
  • Viewing a launch from on-base may be possible, if you have a well-connected buddy in the Space Force who can sponsor you onto the base for a launch. Commercial launches are your best bet.
  • Viewing launches from off-base is also possible. I have heard that a prime viewing site is at Lompoc's garbage dump. You might check maps of the area for likely alternate sites.

    Todd Walker has suggested a good site just under 3 miles west of the town of Guadalupe, just off West Main Street. It looks pretty good for viewing missile launches. Here is a map of the location.

    If I hear of any safe and good viewing sites, I'll post them here.
    Please share any info you get with me.  Brian Webb's site has some recommendations for viewing launches from the VSFB area.
    Jim Drebert says he had a great view of a Minuteman launch from Trader Nick's, in Pismo Beach. That would be around 17 miles from the launch site. He says he was able to hear the launch, as well as see it.

Upcoming Launches

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June 18, 2024?
Time: 8:00 PM - 12:00 AM
The next batch of Starlink satellites, Group 9-1, is scheduled for launch on a Falcon-9. The launch is scheduled to take place during a window that includes the twilight effect zone.
Follow the launch at or's YouTube channel
Other launch schedules are at Jet Propulsion Labs and

Recent Launches

June 8, 2024
Time: 5:58 AM
Starlink Group 8-8 launched on a Falcon-9.
May 28, 2024
Time: 3:20 PM
EarthCARE is an atmospheric study payload, developed by the European and Japanese space agencies.
The first stage was recovered at VSFB.
May 22, 2024
Time: 1:00 AM
A payload from the US National Reconnaissance Office (NROL-146) launched on a Falcon-9.
May 14, 2024?
Time: 9:29 AM - 2:00 PM
Starlink Group 8-7 on a Falcon-9. The first stage was recovered on a drone ship off the coast of Baja California.
May 9, 2024
Time: 9:30 PM
Starlink Group 8-2 launch to orbit on a (what else?) Falcon-9. The first stage was recovered on a drone ship (OCISLY) off the coast of Baja California.
This launch window opened around 40 minutes after sunset, but was delayed to 9:30.
As viewed from my deck, the first stage flew directly across a thin waxing crescent moon -- it would have made a spectacular photo, if only I had a decent camera, an excellent telephoto lens, and some photographic experience. Sigh. And the ISS was very showy as it passed by while the Falcon was doing its thing -- I hope the astronauts weren't too jaded or busy to watch the launch!
San Diego, CA
May 2, 2024?
Time: 11:36 AM
A pair of WorldView Legion earth imaging satellites finally caught a ride to orbit on a Falcon 9. The first stage was recovered at VSFB Landing Zone 4.
April 11, 2024
Time: 7:25 AM
The USSF-62 weather satellite was launched, with a recovery of the first stage at VSFB.
April 6, 2024
Time: 7:25PM
SpaceX launched Starlink group 8-1, yielding some very nice twilight illumination of the exhaust plume.
March 28, 2024
Time: 7:30 PM
A F9 launched Starlink group 7-18 into orbit, in a twilight spectacular.
You should be able to find scads of videos if you search YouTube. Here's mine.
March 18, 2024
Time: 7:28 PM
SpaceX launched Starlink group 7-16 into orbit on a Falcon 9 around half an hour after sunset, resulting in a very nice twilight effect spectacular. The first stage landed on the OCISLY drone ship off the coast of Baja California.
From San Diego, the launch was occasionally obscured by clouds, but was still very satisfying. It was very easy to follow both stages of the vehicle through almost all of their burns. I caught much of the flight on my phone:

San Diego, CA

Steve H. captured an excellent clip, in which you can see the first stage, and just toward the end, you can see two bright dots falling behind the second stage -- the fairing halves that were just released.

March 10, 2024
Time: 9:09 PM
SpaceX launched Starlink group 7-17 into orbit on a Falcon 9.
March 4, 2024
Time: 2:04 PM
This was a SpaceX rideshare mission, Transporter 10, carrying many small satellites to orbit. The first stage was recovered back at a landing pad on Vandenberg Space Force Base.
February 22, 2024
Time: 8:11 PM
Starlink group 7-15 launched on a Falcon 9, with a landing on the OCISLY drone ship, off the coast of Baja California.
February 15, 2024
Time: 1:34 PM
Starlink group 7-14 launched on a Falcon 9, with a landing on the OCISLY drone ship, off the coast of Baja California.
February 9, 2024
Time: 4:34 PM
Starlink group 7-13 launched on a Falcon 9, with a landing on the OCISLY drone ship, off the coast of Baja California.
January 28, 2024
Time: 9:57 PM maybe!
Starlink group 7-12 launched on a Falcon 9, with a landing on the OCISLY drone ship, off the coast of Baja California.
January 24, 2024
Time: 4:35 PM
Starlink group 7-11 launched on a Falcon 9, with a landing on the OCISLY drone ship, off the coast of Baja California. ...but only after many rescheduled launch attempts.
January 14, 2024
Time: 12:59 AM
Starlink group 7-10 launched on a Falcon 9, with a landing on the OCISLY drone ship, off the coast of Baja California. The first stage made its 18th flight on this mission.
January 2, 2024
Time: 7:44 PM
Starlink group 7-9 joined the armada (on a Falcon 9, of course). I caught some of the flight from my usual backyard camera, which you can watch on YouTube. The first stage landed on the OCISLY drone ship, around 200 miles south of San Diego.
December 24, 2023
Time: 5:11 AM
A pair of German synthetic aperture radar earth observation satellites (SARah-2 & 3)flew to orbit on a Falcon 9, and reportedly caught some nice illumination, starting towards the end of the first stage launch burn. The first stage was recovered at LZ-4, Vandenberg.

I couldn't get any photos or video -- San Diego was thoroughly socked in during the launch.
Russ S
San Diego, CA

Had a bit of undercast here in Ventura, but once the booster cleared that, it was visible through most of the boost phase, Max Q, MECO and staging. Boost-back burn was executed with a nice "jellyfish" plume interaction and solid thruster firings. Could not track after that until entry burn started and that was clearly visible. But, what was really interesting was the second stage plume becoming VERY noticeable as it rose to altitudes where it became sunlit. You could clearly see the gasses moving rapidly away from the nozzle and taking up a large portion of the early morning sky until it became too diaphanous at even higher altitudes as the engine's visibility reduced to a pinprick and disappeared in the distance.

A surprisingly good show!

Ventura, CA
December 22, 2023
Time: 9:32 AM
A Firefly Alpha is lifted an engineering test payload from Lockheed Martin into orbit. You can watch the launch at Firefly's YouTube channel.
December 8, 2023
Time: 12:03 AM
Starlink group 7-8 launched on a Falcon 9.
You can watch my my backyard video, if you like. It captures the last 45 seconds of the first stage's flight, the first stage's entry burn, and around 4:30 of the second stage's flight.
December 1, 2023
Time: 10:19 AM
A Falcon 9 carried a South Korean reconnaissance payload on a mission dubbed Project 425 Flight 1. The first stage was recovered at VSFB.
November 20, 2023
Time: 2:30 AM
The next Falcon 9 launch carried Starlink group 7-7 to orbit.
I slept through this one, so my backyard video only shows the ascent, as I wasn't able to slew the camera to capture the entry burn. Sorry!
San Diego, CA
November 11, 2023
Time: 10:49 AM
Falcon 9/Transporter 9 rideshare mission launched on a rideshare mission with 90+ payloads.
As expected, all I could see from San Diego was a bit of a faint vertical white plume. No exhaust flame. No entry burn.
San Diego, CA
October 29, 2023
Time: 2:00 AM
Falcon 9/Starlink mission 7-6 launched right on time, at 2 AM.
The nearly full moon illuminated the landscape so much that my backyard camera remained in daylight mode throughout the night. I left it in that mode so it could record a little bit of the color of the exhaust during the first stage operation within the atmosphere, which shows up during the launch phase and the entry burn, which it did catch nicely, this time (around 5 minutes into the video).. You can watch the video here.
San Diego, CA
October 21, 2023
Time: 1:23 AM
Falcon 9/Starlink mission 7-5 launched early on Saturday morning, amid the Orionid meteor shower.

The skies were nice and clear for the launch. As usual, the first stage appeared on the horizon around a minute after liftoff, as a bright red-orange dot. As it rose, the exhaust trail lengthened and got a little less bright. Upon staging, the second stage started as a dim whitish dot, and as it accelerated to the southeast, it developed its wispy parabolic exhaust arc and faint trail. Around 3 minutes, 50 seconds after staging, the first stage reasserted itself to the south-southeast as a falling, bright red-orange flare, during its entry burn.
You can watch my backyard camera video (night vision = infrared) of the launch here.
San Diego, CA
October 9, 2023?
Time: 12:23 AM
Starlink mission 7-4 launched on early Monday morning.

In San Diego, the marine layer prevented any viewing of the flight, in Mira Mesa, at least.
September 2, 2023
Time: 7:25 AM
The next set of demonstration satellites from the US Space Development Agency were sent to orbit on a Falcon 9. This flight was designated as SDA Tranche 0B. The first stage was recovered at Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg SFB.
Here's where you can watch the webcast.
Rescheduled from August 31, due to an engine issue, and from September 1 due to...?
August 22, 2023
Time: 2:37 AM
Starlink mission 7-1 with a flotilla of version 2 mini satellites finally launched on a Falcon 9 on Monday morning, in the wee hours, after a lot of scrubs and delays! The last batch of delays were undoubtedly related to Hurricane/Tropical Storm Hilary: Storm conditions affect not only the launch site and the wind conditions above it, but also downrange, where the first stage and the fairings need to be recovered. And of course, you don't want the drone ship having to deal with high seas while carrying a F9 first stage -- that's a tall item to be rocking the waves!
The first stage was recovered on the OCISLY drone ship off the coast of Baja California, a few days after Hilary departed the area.
Webcast link
August 7, 2023
Time: 8:57 PM
Starlink mission 6-20 lifted off a bit over an hour after sunset. This provided a similar display to the July 19 flight, with the second stage's exhaust plume getting some nice illumination against a dark sky.
July 19, 2023
Time: 9:09 PM
A relatively small batch of Starlink satellites (mission 6-15) was sent to low earth orbit by a Falcon 9. The first stage was recovered on the OCISLY drone ship, several hundred miles downrange.

This launch took place a little too long after sunset to produce a full "jellyfish" twilight effect, but the second stage did eventually ride into the sunlight and provided more of a "comet" for those who were watching.

Rescheduled from July 18 after a missed first window and an abort at t-5 seconds in the second window.
I watched from my deck in Mira Mesa. As per usual, the first stage appeared, bright red-orange, around 90 seconds after liftoff. Saw 2nd stage startup, and around 1 minute later, it climbed into the the sunlight and started putting on a show. I captured the flight using my infrared camera again.
Things to watch for:
  • First of all, ignore the audio. I don't understand why this happens, but the audio is completely out of synch with what's going on. The audio was coming from my laptop, which was nearby. It's not lagging behind the video, which I would understand (YouTube is at least 30-45 seconds behind real time). It's actually consistently ahead of what's going on. I think the Wyze camera's encoding firmware is defective.
  • At around 3 minutes into the video, there's a white patch that shows up behind or in the plume of the second stage. I believe this is the first stage -- or to be more accurate, some sunlit puffs from its cold gas thrusters as it is heading toward recovery. It's also possible that this is from one or both fairings -- they also have nitrogen thrusters.
  • At 6 minutes, 30 seconds into the video, at the center bottom of the screen, you can see a bright object ducking down behind some foliage. That's the first stage entry burn.
Falcon-9 2nd stage blooming in the sunlight
Mira Mesa, California
July 7, 2023
Time: 12:29 PM
Another batch of Starlink satellites (mission 5-13) were lifted to low Earth orbit. Recovery of the first stage was on the OCISLY drone ship, several hundred miles downrange.
Launch moved up from original time of 2:47 PM.
June 22, 2023
Time: 12:19 AM
Another batch of Starlink satellites (mission 5-7) were sent to low earth orbit by a Falcon 9. The first stage was recovered on the OCISLY drone ship.

From Mira Mesa, I was able to observe the last 45 seconds, or so, of the first stage flight (deep red to light orange exhaust trail) and then most of the second stage burn. My sky observation camera captured the flight nicely -- "night mode" works very well for visually faint high altitude rocket plumes, since it's really sensitive to infrared emissions. Thus, a hot exhaust plume shows up well.
Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA

Great view from Coronado.

Paul K
Coronado, CA
June 12, 2023
Time: 2:35 PM
A Falcon 9 on rideshare mission "Transporter 8" released a load of small satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.
May 30, 2023
Time: 11:02 PM
Falcon 9 with Starlink mission 2-10. Recovery on OCISLY drone ship.
May 20, 2023
Time: 6:15 AM
A Falcon 9 carried a bunch of OneWeb and Iridium Next satellites to orbit. The first stage was recovered on drone ship OCISLY.
(Rescheduled after a literal last-minute abort on May 19.)
April 14, 2023
Time: 11:47 PM
This was a rideshare mission, called Transporter 7. The first stage was recovered at VSFB.
The recovery sequence was slightly different from previous flights: They only used one engine during the entry burn, instead of 3. I always wondered why they do such an aggressive burn on RTLS recoveries, since the entry speed at the start of an RTLS entry burn is less than the post-entry burn speed on a down-range recovery. I figured that perhaps they somehow need the outer engines in order to get enough roll authority during entry, but since they were able to use only the center engine this time, that must not be the case.
Also, the narrator claimed they were using 3 engines for the landing burn. It sure did not look like it to me, based on SpaceX's webcast. And also, it doesn't make much sense unless they were purposefully landing with an extremely overweight first stage: When a single Merlin-1D engine is throttled all the way down, it's still generating more thrust than the weight of the first stage with remaining fuel. This is what makes the consistent successful landings so amazing: At landing, The first stage is incapable of hovering. Precise timing of the landing burn, along with careful throttle control, is required in order to have that stage reach nearly 0 vertical (and horizontal) speed just as the legs are about to touch the surface. So, running 3 engines for the landing burn seems insane to me! As I said, the video does not show 3 engines running so far as I can tell -- I think someone gave the narrator bad information, or she got mixed up. (Rescheduled from April 10, 11, and 13.)
April 2, 2023?
Time: 7:29 AM
This launch was of a military engineering payload, called SDA. The launch was first attempted on 3/30, but was called off at T-3 seconds, just after the first stage engines were being lit. After a couple of reschedulings, the launch finally took place on 4/2.
The payload was sufficiently light that the F9 first stage made an RTLS (return to launch site) recovery at Vandenberg.
January 31, 2023
Time: 8:15 AM
This Falcon 9 flight carried Starlink mission 2-6, 49 commercial communication satellites plus a rideshare payload, into low Earth orbit. The first stage was recovered a few hundred miles downrange, on drone ship OCISLY.
January 19, 2023
Time: 7:43 AM
This Falcon 9 flight carried Starlink mission 2-4, 51 commercial communication satellites, into low Earth orbit. The first stage was recovered a few hundred miles downrange, on drone ship OCISLY.
December 29, 2022
Time: 10:58 PM
An Israeli Earth imaging satellite, EROS C3, was launched by a Falcon 9. The first stage was recovered at Vandenberg SFB's Landing Zone 4.
(Postponed from December 28.)
December 16, 2022
Time: 3:46:47 AM
SpaceX launched an Earth resources satellite called SWOT. The first stage landed back at Vandenberg, causing a bit of a ruckus in nearby towns, from the sonic boom in the wee hours.
November 10, 2022
Time: 2:25 AM
ULA (United Launch Alliance) launched a weather satellite (JPSS 2) and an engineering test of an inflatable re-entry decelerator (LOFTID). This Atlas was configured without solid rocket boosters. The first stage runs on RP-1 (refined kerosene) and liquid oxygen, which does not leave a prominent exhaust plume.
Reports indicate that the LOFTID experiment was a success.
October 27, 2022
6:14:10 PM
A Falcon 9 launched another batch of 53 Starlink satellites (mission 4-31) at or just after sunset (depending on your location).
Falcon 9 in the contrail zone!
Contrail in the sunset
...these shots taken by Anita D.
near VSFB
Saw it from here Visalia 100mi north east...
Despite of sunset background, impressive show with my astro binocs, bright orange boost phase, then lots of separations, weird plumes and waves, then dim comet going east then down to horizon again.
Ah if only they lauched 1h later it would be superb.

Edouard S
Visalia, CA
Falcon 9 ascending
Falcon 9 ascending AND an airliner lit by the sunset
Falcon 9 second stage
...these shots provided by Steve H.
Long Beach, CA
October 5, 2022
SpaceX launched Starlink mission 4-29 on a Falcon-9 and landed the first stage on its OCISLY drone ship, off the coast of Baja California. (This flight was postponed from Oct 3 for undisclosed reasons, then postponed from Oct 4 to give priority to the Crew 5 mission launched from Florida.)
Closeup of Falcon 9, early in climbout

Anita D
...not too far from VSFB
October 1, 2022
12:01 AM
Firefly finally flew their small satellite launcher into a retrograde (west-bound) orbit. This countdown and flight appears to have gone perfectly, after multiple false starts and aborts over the preceding weeks.
There are reports, though, that the payloads ended up in a significantly lower orbit than planned (200 km rather than 300 km).
September 24, 2022
3:25 PM
The final flight of a Delta IV-Heavy from VSFB carried a reconnaissance payload to orbit for the US National Reconnaissance Office.
August 30, 2022
10:40 PM
The next batch of Starlink satellites, mission 3-4, as sent off in a lovely night launch on a Falcon 9. With clear skies, the launch was visible for hundreds of miles.
I was able to easily watch the flight from my backyard deck. The YouTube webcast delay was approximately 10 seconds, this time. Red-orange exhaust flame appeared just above the northwest horizon. It started out pretty short, actually. As the flight progressed past max-q, the exhaust lengthened considerably and started to fade a bit. Then it actually started to turn bluish in the last 30 seconds before MECO, at which point, I lost sight of the stack entirely. Perhaps 15 seconds later, I caught sight of the second stage -- a dim orange dot with a faint blue-gray exhaust arc, accelerating to the south. I was able to follow it with my binoculars until it started getting close to time for the first stage's entry burn, at which point I focused my attention to the southwest. The first stage entry burn was quite bright, and at perhaps 15 degrees above the southwest horizon. I then continued to watch that horizon, hoping to catch some of the landing burn, but I suspect that's a waste of time -- the burn probably starts at only 5000 feet, and at that range (300 miles?), it may well be at or below the horizon from here.
All in all, a nice show. Not a twilight spectacular, but I'll settle for what I got!
Mira Mesa, California
August 12, 2022
2:40 PM
And SpaceX launched another 46 Starlink satellites on a Falcon 9. Recovery of the first stage was on drone ship OCISLY, off the coast of Baja California.
July 22, 2022
10:39 AM
SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink comsats (mission 3-2) on a Falcon 9. Recovery of the first stage was on drone ship OCISLY, off the coast of Baja California. Viewers more than 100 miles away from VSFB had to satisfy themselve by watching the webcast at the SpaceX website.
July 10, 2022
6:39 PM
SpaceX launched another batch of Starlink comsats on a Falcon 9. Recovery of the first stage was on drone ship OCISLY, off the coast of Baja California. There was not much to see from any distance, aside from a brief spurt of white contrail, and a wispy bit of backlit exhaust trail a couple of hours later, after sunset.
June 18, 2022
Time: 7:19 AM
A radar mapping satellite, SARah-1, launched by a Falcon 9 through June Gloom to a high inclination orbit for the German military. The first stage was recovered at the SpaceX landing zone at VSFB.
May 13, 2022
Time: 3:07:50 PM
A Falcon 9 successfully lofted another flurry of Starlink satellites (group 4-13) into orbit, with the first stage landing off the coast of Baja California, on a drone ship (OCISLY).
April 17, 2022
Time: 6:13 AM
A Falcon 9 launched a reconnaissance payload (NROL-85) to orbit, with the first stage recovering at a Vandenberg landing pad. The launch took place only a few minutes before sunrise, and cloud cover in much of southern California prevented most people from observing the flight directly.
February 25, 2022
Time: 9:12 AM
Starlink Mission 4-11 put 50 more of SpaceX's internet satellites into orbit. There wasn't much notice for this launch -- perhaps one day?
I was able to get the word out the previous afternoon.

It wasn't too cold to go outside and shoot the launch!
Falcon 9 just over the hill Closeup of Falcon 9, well into first stage burn

Anita D
...not too far from VSFB
February 2, 2022
Time: 12:28 PM
A Falcon 9 lifted a reconnaissance payload (NROL-87) into orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.
The first stage performed a perfect return-to-launch-site (RTLS) landing at Vandenberg.
As expected for a daytime launch, nothing whatsoever was visible from Mira Mesa (San Diego).

December 18, 2021
Time: 4:41 AM
A batch of 52 Starlink satellites was sent into an orbit that is a lot more easterly than almost any launch from VSFB, with an inclination of only 53 degrees. The launch took place a couple of hours before sunrise, under a very bright, nearly full moon. Because of the low inclination, the vehicle executed a bit of a "dog-leg" maneuver early in the second stage's flight, after dropping the fairings.
From here in San Diego, the first stage was bright red-orange, as usual, with a pretty long orange tail.

The initial part of the second stage's burn was washed out by a nearly full moon, but then appeared as a bright orange dot with a moonwashed hyperbolic exhaust plume, accelerating to the southeast, quite high in the sky.

The first stage's entry burn was very easily visible, to the south of my home. I'm guessing OCISLY (the landing ship) was off the coast of Baja California. It was too far away to make out the landing burn.

Sadly, my old "pro-sumer" camera with a telephoto lens insists on using auto-focus for video, and I couldn't get it to focus properly, so I have a lovely video of the first stage blurring its way into the sky. I guess it's time to buy a better camera...

San Diego, CAs
November 23, 2021
Time: 10:21:02 PM
A Falcon 9 launched an asteroid deflection test package called DART. As expected, this night launch of a Falcon 9 was easily observed all across southern CA.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get good photos of the launch (away from home at the time). My outdoor monitoring camera caught the launch, but it's not particularly exciting in glorious black and white, wide angle. You can watch it here, if you like.

Russ, San Diego, CA
September 27, 2021
Time: 11:11 AM (apx)
An Atlas V launched Landsat 9 (Earth resources satellite) to orbit, through a solid marine layer covering most of southern California. This vehicle flew without solid rocket boosters, so the flight would have been difficult to observe from a distance, during late morning lighting conditions, anyway.
September 13, 2021
Time: 8:55 PM
A Falcon 9 returned to the Vandenberg skies to launch a batch of 51 Starlink satellites into a high inclination orbit. The first stage (on its 10th flight) landed on OCISLY (Of Course I Still Love You), the drone ship recently repositioned to Long Beach).
I watched from my deck in San Diego, and the launch was far more spectacular than I expected. First of all, if you're trying to time things by watching the webcast, BEWARE!: The YouTube stream can lag real time by 30 seconds or more! I was watching the webcast, and the rocket appeared well up in the sky by the time the webcast called the vehicle at max Q, which is impossible. And indeed, 1st stage MECO was called at least 30 seconds after I observed staging.
From here, the first stage exhaust flame was amazingly long -- I'm going to say about 1 - 1.5 degrees (2-3 full moon diameters). And it tended more toward red than orange -- although it might have been tinged by smoke from wildfires.
The second stage engine was a bright orange dot, and its exhaust plume formed a faintly luminous parabolic wake. After around a minute of flight, the plume faded away, but I was able to follow the MVac engine flare almost all the way to cutoff (I looked away before cutoff in the hopes of observing first stage entry burn.)
Unfortunately, I was unable to see anything of the first stage entry burn, nor of the landing burn: There's a marine layer that is probably the culprit.
And, sadly, I did not have my camera. Did anyone get any photos?

San Diego, CA

No photos, but I was able to see (for the first time ever) the 1st stage burn coming to the drone ship (it was low on the horizon)
I think it was my best non twilight effect launch I’ve seen from here.

Thanks for your updates!
Mike R
San Pedro, CA

I snapped this with my phone (a bit shaky picture) near Pomona, looking south. Thanks for the email updates, I would've missed it!

Pomona, CA

I got a photo through the fog about 20 miles south of VSFB.
Anita D
20 mi S of VSFB

Got 10 seconds of stage 1.
Wish I have the other long lens ready....DANG!!!!

Steve H
Long Beach, CA
September 2, 2021?
Time: 6:59PM
A new company, Firefly, launched the inaugural flight of their smallsat launcher, Alpha (after delays due to an engine fire and COVID-19 and...?).
The flight went relatively well for a first attempt: 15 seconds after liftoff, one of 4 engines shut down (reason has not yet been announced), which caused the vehicle to underperform significantly. Once the vehicle encountered the most aerodynamically challenging phase of flight, as it went supersonic at around 50,000 feet, it started tumbling. This forced VSFB Range Safety to trigger Alpha's flight termination system.
April 26, 2021?
Time: 1:47 PM
The National Reconnaissance Office launched a payload (NROL-82) on one of the last of the Delta 4 Heavy missions.
November 21, 2020
Time: 9:17 AM
A Falcon 9 carried a European sea level observation satellite (Sentinel 6A) into orbit. (Delayed from Nov 10 to allow time to make sure its Merlin engines don't have a recently identified problem.)
The flight went perfectly, including a first stage landing back at the VAFB landing zone.

Sadly, I couldn't see any of it from San Diego. The sky was a little hazy, with around 15% cloud coverage.
Russ S
San Diego
And here's an interesting video of the launch as seen from Santa Barbara by the son of a friend of a friend. The first half is of the ascent, starting shortly after max Q. The second half shows the first stage descending. I'm not absolutely certain, but it looks to me as that second clip captures some of the entry burn.
Unknown Santa Barbarian
Santa Barbara

And finally, here are a couple of shots of the flight from near VAFB:

The full stack on its way to orbit

The first stage starting its landing burn

photos by Anita D.
near Vandenberg AFB
June 12, 2019
Time: 7:17 AM
Three Radarsat earth observation satellites were launched on a Falcon 9 for the Canadian Space Agency. The loss of a Falcon 9 first stage in December 2018 (a grid fin failure caused an unplanned water landing) affected the availability of a launch vehicle for Radarsat, causing the delay to June on a previously (once) used first stage -- which was used for the first flight of a Crew Dragon.
January 19, 2019
Time: 11:10 AM
A Delta 4 Heavy launched a reconnaissance satellite (NROL-71).
January 11, 2019
Time: 7:31 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched the last batch of 10 Iridium Next comsats. Due to the delay in the launch of the Delta 4 carrying an NROL reconnaisance payload, that sensitive payload's presence at Vandenberg caused the first stage recovery to be on the drone ship rather than the Vandenberg landing pad.
December 3, 2018
Time: 10:34:05 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 sent 64 small payloads (including a large inflatable "sculpture" and a cremains cubesat) into sun-synchronous orbit on a Spaceflight SSO-A mission. Note that the launch vehicle's first stage has flown twice before, making this the first time a F9 lower stage has flown 3 times. The first stage was recovered on the drone ship, just off the coast from Vandenberg AFB. (According to Scott Manley, they didn't use the SpaceX landing pad because there's a "sensitive payload" nearby -- probably a Delta 4 Heavy with an NROL recon payload.) (Delayed from Nov 19, Nov 28, Dec 1, and Dec 2)
October 7, 2018
Time: 7:21 PM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched an Argentinian earth observation satellite. This flight included the first landing of a Falcon 9 booster at Vandenberg AFB, at a pad 1/4 mile from the launch site.
My phone failed to annunciate the alarm, so I managed to miss the launch. BIG Argh!
Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA
first stage maneuvering back to VAFB
      Copyright 2018, Jeff Bisely
Video of sunlit part of flight, as seen from Morro Bay California, stage one separation and stage 2 ignition.

[Comments from Russ: At 17 seconds into the video, the first and second stages emerge into the sunlight. The first stage then starts its boost-back burn, to loft it back to the launch site. That burn continues up through the 1 minute mark. In this view, the first stage is to the left and is heading toward the upper left, while the second stage and payload are headed to the upper right. You can then easily see pulses from the first stage's attitude control thrusters at that point. At around 1:11, you can see a white dot appearing below and to the left of the second stage -- I'm pretty sure this is one of the fairings (jettisoned shortly after second stage startup) exercising its own attitude control thrusters. Sadly, the fairing recovery boat ("Mr. Steven") was not deployed, since the sea state in the recovery zone exceeded its capabilities.]
Jeff B
Morro Bay, CA
What a great show! From the south side of Bolsa Chica Wetlands, along Seaside Street. Maybe a hundred people along the bluffs specifically to watch, and many more stopped their beach cruisers to ask what was going on!
This first shot...
First 150 seconds of launch
      Copyright 2018, Paul Thomas two blended photos of the first two and a half minutes after the launch. The booster has separated and is moving off to the right. The second stage and payload is moving to the left, and was easily visible until it cut off about 7 minutes later.
The second photo...
Descent burn of first stage
      Copyright 2018, Paul Thomas the booster's engine firing as it descended toward Vandenberg. It is a single shot of 140 seconds.
We did not hear the sonic boom from here.
And, one more photo blended from 2 shots of about a minute in total...
First and second stages head in different directions
      Copyright 2018, Paul Thomas the booster is arcing off to the right, there are 4 to 6 "pulses" in the form of bright lights. I assume these to be attitude control thruster firings. You may have to enlarge the shot to see them plainly.
Paul T
Long Beach
...and Steve Harte has some excellent videos to share:
In these videos, the second stage is moving to the left, while the first stage is boosting/coasting to the right.

      Copyright 2018, Steve Harte

      Copyright 2018, Steve Harte

      Copyright 2018, Steve Harte

This video doesn't do the launch justice, but I attempted to track the launch with a 400mm lens on a fluid video head...
First and 2nd stage burning away from each other

(the video gets much more interesting around 1:40)

I have very little experience shooting video with a DSLR. I think this was the very first time I shot video at night, so I think it's a decent first attempt.
Adam I
Winchester, CA
Will Pendarvis (@deadletters on Instagram) contributed this nifty video:
twilight over Hollywood
Hollywood, CA
September 15, 2018
Time: 6:02 AM
The very last Delta 2 sent a NASA earth resources satellite to orbit.
Sadly, San Diego was completely overcast, so I could only follow the launch via the webcast...
Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA
This morning in the bluffs above Bolsa Chica Wetlands near Huntington Beach. We easily saw the main engine cutoff, and could see the rocket all the way until engine shutdown. There was a very pale, thin exhaust trail in the sky for about 15 minutes. Could have had a much wider picture here, but I really did not have the camera pointed correctly!
Delta launch photo, copyright 2018 by Paul Thomas

Copyright 2018 by Paul Thomas
Huntington Beach, CA
July 25, 2018
Time: 4:39:26 AM
A "block 5" SpaceX Falcon 9 launched another 10 Iridium Next comsats. The first stage was recovered successfully on the drone ship amidst rough seas. The fairings were not recovered, despite a new, quadruple-sized net on the recovery ship.
In San Diego, the sky was slightly hazy, so the first stage showed up around 30 seconds after lift off, and occasionally disappeared behind clouds. The orange exhaust flame was long and quite bright, and the trail seemed slightly luminous (faint green?) for some distance behind the vehicle. After staging, the "boost-back" burn was similarly bright, and seemed to be sunlit. I was easily able to follow the second stage with my binoculars. The first stage's reentry burn was very bright and easy to observe, but clouds/haze/distance prevented me from seeing anything of the landing burn.
Russ S.
San Diego, CA
May 22, 2018
Time: 12:47:58 PM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 orbited another 5 Iridium Next comsats and two science satellites. The first stage is "flight proven", i.e., not the new Block 5 model, so it was not recovered. And SpaceX's "Mr. Steven" boat again failed to catch a fairing before it splashed into the Pacific.
May 5, 2018
Time: 4:05 AM
An Atlas V is carried NASA's Insight probe (and two support cubesats) to orbit, and thence toward Mars. (Delayed from 2016 launch by problems with a critical instrument that were unresolvable in time for the 2016 Mars transfer orbit launch window.
I watched the launch from my back yard in Mira Mesa. A reddish-orange streak appeared in the northwest around 90 seconds after liftoff, and rose quickly, heading higher and southwards. Around 20 seconds before first stage engine cutoff, the exhaust plume appeared, perhaps illuminated by the sun. As expected, upon staging, the vehicle became invisible. The Centaur upper stage burns hydrogen/oxygen, which results in a dim blue light that just did not show up in my binoculars.
It was worth getting up to watch the first deep space launch from the West Coast.
Russ S.
San Diego, CA
March 30, 2018
Time: 7:14 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 orbited another 10 Iridium Next comsats.
February 22, 2018
Time: 6:17 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 is orbited a commercial radar imaging satellite ("Paz") and two Internet service delivery satellites.
January 12, 2017
Time: 2:11 PM
A Delta 4 finally launched a reconnaissance payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office after numerous tries. While both of the core stages are fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, resulting in a rather dim exhaust "flame", the first stage was augmented by solid rocket boosters that provided a bright flame and brilliant white exhaust trail during the first 2 minutes of flight.
December 22, 2017
Time: 17:27:34 PM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched another 10 Iridium Next communications satellites, using a "flight proven" (i.e., previously used) first stage. The first stage was not recovered, though they seemed to perform most of the recovery maneuvers, which were easily visible from San Diego. The launch took place around 45 minutes after sunset, so this provided one of the most spectactular launch viewing opportunities in years.
The launch was easily visible, starting with a very red exhaust flame, soon followed by a brilliant white exhaust plume that expanded more and more as the vehicle rose above the atmosphere. First stage separation was very easily viewed, and you could see some really interesting plumes from the first stage as it flipped and occasionally blipped its engine. As the first stage dropped down to around 10 degrees above the horizon, you could see its engine light during the retropropulsion phase. I was a little surprised that they retained the fuel for these maneuvers even though they didn't recover the stage -- which wasn't equipped with landing legs. Here are a few of the photos I got:

Copyright 2017 by Russ Schnapp
Mira Mesa, CA

Copyright 2017 by CJ Parrish

Copyright 2017 by Adam Ince

Copyright 2017 by Steve Harte

Copyright 2017 by Paul Thomas
This photo is the one everyone else has...and thank you for explaining in your email what I have in the shot.

Copyright 2017 by Paul Thomas
These shots were from the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach. This [time-lapse] photo: 20 second exposure. The payload is downrange, to the left. In the center, descending, is the booster far behind Catalina Island. The entire "retro" sequence went quite a lot longer. I was hoping to see the descent stage, and was not disappointed. My photos suffered because I was too busy picking my jaw off the ground and screaming like an excited 10 year old. I didn't expect anything like this.
Paul Thomas
Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach
November 18, 2017
Time: 1:47 AM
The next-to-last Delta 2 flight launched a new weather satellite at the start of a 1 minute window. It was be aided by a full complement of air- and ground-ignited solid rocket boosters, which tend to make for a spectacular first couple of minutes. (Delayed a couple of times.)
I got up at 1:42, checked, and confirmed that the flight was still on, so I went out on the deck with my camera, to see if I could get a decent photo. Around 40 seconds after lift-off, a deep red flare appeared above the northwest horizon. It rose, turned more orangish, and lengthened into an easily discernable tail. At around 2 minutes after liftoff, it dimmed significantly as the SRBs burned out. Nevertheless, I was easily able to follow the first stage burn all the way through. Interestingly, it got brighter toward the end of the burn. Presumably, this is because the exhaust trail spreads out faster and becomes more transparent. After first stage burnout, the vehicle disappeared. The second stage engine is just too small to see anything.
As for the photo? I got one shot off, and it was awful. An orangish zigzag, despite the fact that I had the camera on a tripod. I must have still had my hand on the platform handle.
October 31, 2017
Time: 2:37 PM
An Orbital Sciences Minotaur C launched 6 earth imaging satellites (SkySat from Terra Bella).
October 9, 2017
Time: 5:37 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9R orbited another 10 Iridium Next communications satellites.
I live in Morro Bay and it was perfect to watch the liftoff from my front deck on my iPad, see the horizon light up, and then watch the rocket go! Saw the first stage separation with binoculars, the second stage light and leave, and the first stage head back down. Then I could watch the first stage landing on the iPad. Then I had to go to work. Timing was perfect. I saw the January Iridium 1 launch live in Lompoc. Glad to see both a daytime and night time launch.

Jeff B
Morro Bay, CA
I saw it here in Ventura, and it was AWESOME!

The booster's plume grew into a beautiful blue/purple streak as it rose into the atmosphere. The exhaust diamonds were clearly visible. Staging was easily seen, as was booster turnaround. The boost-back burn was spectacular because the early sunrise was hitting the gases at that altitude. It looked like some sort of cosmic jellyfish swirling around as the booster flew through the plume. I've never seen anything like it and I've witnessed dozens of launches. You could easily see the booster slowing down as it continued the burn.

As I watched the second stage pushing on to orbit, suddenly there was a large orange flame nearer the horizon and it was apparent I was seeing the booster's retro burn! Spectacular! I did not witness the landing burn as it was obscured by the fog deck near the ocean's surface.

No, I don't have any pics as I was transfixed watching the light show with my eyeballs through a pair of stabilized binocs.

I can hardly wait for F9 Heavy from VAFB!

Josh K.
Ventura, CA
I saw it from Huntington Beach. It was conveniently timed shortly after my usual wakeup time. Only a small red exhaust trail visible during 1st stage ascent. Second stage exhaust was barely visible at all. A couple minutes after 2nd stage got going, there was a bright light for a few seconds below where separaration had occurred, which I assume was the first stage rocket lighting off, too high in the sky to be landing on the platform, but I never saw it again after those few seconds. The distraction made me lose sight of the 2nd stage as it headed south, so I went back inside.

Neil W
Huntington Beach
September 23, 2017
Time: 10:49:47 PM
An Atlas V launched NROL-42, a reconnaissance payload, into orbit. The first stage was augmented with four solid rocket boosters. (delayed from Sep 21 to replace a battery in the launch vehicle).
Well, that launch was spectacular from San Diego. The solid rocket boosters made the vehicle easily visible around 1 minute after liftoff, as a very red, relatively long flame/exhaust trail. About a minute later, the flame got a bit more dim and more orange, presumably after solid rocket booster burnout. Just at that point, the vehicle rose into the sunlight as it got to the southwest of San Diego, illuminating a huge arc of rocket exhaust. The illuminated arc and exhaust flame remained visible until burnout of the first stage. After that, I thought I could see the very dim blue flame of the LH2/LOX Centaur upper stage carrying the NROL payload to orbit. This was well worth watching.
It's been so long since I last saw anything from San Diego, I didn't bother getting my prosumer camera ready. If I had, I could have had some really nice images, darn it!
Russ Schnapp
Mira Mesa, San Diego, CA
August 24, 2017
Time: 11:50 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9R is launched Formosat 5, a remote sensing satellite. The first stage then landed within the bullseye on SpaceX's drone landing barge, off the coast of San Diego.
June 25, 2017 at 1:25:14 PM A SpaceX Falcon 9R orbited another 10 Iridium Next communications satellites and recovered the first stage on their barge, Just Read The Instructions.
March 1, 2017
9:49:50 AM
An Atlas V launched NROL-79, a reconnaissance payload, into a high inclination orbit.
I tried to observe the launch from my office in Irvine. It was a clear day, with great visibility, but I couldn't see any of the launch. The kerosene/oxygen propellant just doesn't leave enough of a trail.
Irvine, CA
January 14, 2017
9:54:34 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9R launched a fleet of 10 Iridium Next communications satellites. This was the first launch since a fueling mishap destroyed a Falcon 9 and payload, and severely damaged SpaceX's launch facility at Cape Canaveral.
This launch went off perfectly, including a dead-center landing on SpaceX's west coast drone landing barge, "Just Read the Instructions".
November 11, 2016
10:30 AM
An Atlas V launched a Worldview Earth observation satellite. (Rescheduled several times, to address a liquid hydrogen leak, then a nearby wildfire.)
February 10, 2016
3:39 AM
A Delta 4 carried a reconnaissance payload (NROL-45) into orbit.
January 17, 2016
at 10:42:18 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched an ocean studies payload (Jason 3) from Vandenberg AFB South Base SLC-4. There was another attemt to land the first stage on SpaceX's drone landing platform drone barge ("Just Read The Instructions"). Unfortunately, one of the landing legs failed to lock down, so while the stage landed withing 4 feet of the bullseye, it toppled and was severely damaged.
October 8, 2015
time 5:49 AM
An Atlas V lifted a classified reconnaissance satellite to orbit
I was able to observe the last 10 seconds of the first stage burn from here in San Diego, as the stack climbed into the sunlight. It was an orange dot surrounded by the expanding exhaust gas bloom. The engine then shut down, and a second or two later, there was another brief bloom of exhaust gas as the retro thrusters kicked the first stage away from the Centaur/payload. And that was pretty much it. The Centaur's H2/O2 engines don't give off a very bright visible light, and the sky was hazy.
Unrelated to the launch itself, though: around 10 seconds after the Atlas winked out, I noticed a constellation of three first magnitude blue-white pinpoint objects flying west to east at around 45 degrees elevation. One object was in the lead, and two slightly fainter objects trailed along behind it. I observed it for around a minute before it disappeared into the haze. I'm not really sure what it was. I think it was moving too fast for an airliner, and I saw no nav lights. I thought it might have been the ISS with a Progress or other vehicle in proximity -- but seemed to indicate that ISS was in the wrong hemisphere at the time, and not a possibility. A loose formation of military aircraft? Seems unlikely. I'll probably never know what that was....
...Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA
January 31, 2015
6:22 AM
A Delta 2 lofted (SMAP) into orbit shortly before sunrise. (Delayed from 1/29 due to wind shear conditions at launch time.)
December 12, 2014
time: 7:13 PM
A classified naval reconnaissance satellite is was launched aboard an Atlas 5. (Delayed from December 11 due to weather issues)
August 13, 2014
11:30 AM
An Atlas V launched a commercial earth imaging satellite, WorldView 3.
July 2, 2014
2:56 AM
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 scientific payload was carried to orbit by a venerable Delta 2 launch vehicle.
June 22, 2014
9:00 AM to 1:00 PM
A ballistic missile defense Ground Based Interceptor was launched sometime during this window. The Air Force reported a successful intercept of a target launched from Kwajalein. The Interceptor was launched by remote control from a Navy destroyer (USS Hopper).
April 3, 2014
7:46 AM
A Defense Dept weather satellite was successfully launched by an Atlas 5.
December 5, 2013
Time: 11:14:30 PM
An Atlas 5 launched a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Thanks for the heads-up. It was easily visible from Azusa - at about 160 miles from Vandenberg.
John S.
Azusa, CA
Just wanted to let you know that I think I saw it all the way from Concord, CA Northeast bay area. A tiny orange dot ascending, with no strobes that I could see. Then it just went black, I'm guessing about +3 minutes. (Actually looking back at spaceflightnow, my guestimation of time was close) I'm not sure how long the Atlas stage burns for. It was pretty dim from the beginning, but I could not re-acquire sight of it around that timeframe. I would think a Northbound aircraft would only get brighter. Looked to be ascending due west, which if in level flight would appear northbound to me. Could be wrong, never know...
(Actually, it was heading almost directly away from you, southbound -- Russ)
Lee A.
Concord, CA
I followed the mission status via, and once they confirmed launch, went out onto my deck to watch for the bird. Approximately 2 minutes after launch, I finally saw a fairly bright (magnitude -1) orange dot progressing southwards in the west, trailing a fairly large parabolic exhaust plume. I watched it for around 30 seconds through binoculars, as it accelerated, until the first stage burned out. I wasn't able to pick up the second stage burn.
San Diego, CA
September 29, 2013
Time: 9:00 AM
A SpaceX Falcon 9 placed the Canadian Space Agency's Cassiope ionospheric observation satellite into orbit.
This was the first Falcon 9 launch from the West Coast, as well as a first test of SpaceX's new 17-foot-diameter fairing.
August 28, 2013
Time: 11:03 AM

A Delta 4-Heavy (first stage consists of three massive boosters) lifted off from Space Launch Complex 6, taking a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.
Attached is phone pict of launch as seen from 5 story "R" Building at Pasadena City College. Launch was fast, and only the trail was visible.


David Cuatt
June 27, 2013
Time: 7:27 PM
Orbital Sciences' converted L-1011 airliner drop-launched a Pegasus XL vehicle off the coast from Vandenberg AFB. The Pegasus XL carried a solar observation satellite (IRIS) into orbit for NASA.
Details at NASA's IRIS site.
February 11, 2013
Time: 10:04 - 10:48 AM
An Atlas V is scheduled to carry a NASA Landsat follow-on satellite into orbit.
September 13, 2012
Time: 2:39PM
An Atlas V launched a classified payload (NROL-36) and auxiliary "cubesat" payloads into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office. (Delayed from August 2)
I watched for the launch from my office in Irvine. Nada.
Russ Schnapp
From the fifth floor of Building R at Pasadena City College, we 2 professors and a handful of students saw the rising trail of smoke. It was a subtle event from this distance and time of day.
David Cuatt
April 3, 2012
Time: 4:12PM
A Delta 4 (with 2 solid rocket boosters) lifted a classified payload into a retrograde (east-to-west) orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.
October 28, 2011
Time: 2:48 AM Pacific Time
A Delta 2 launched a NOAA/NASA scientific payload.
We did get up and saw the launch last night. At first it was an orange-red light on the horizon, looked like it was a boat on the ocean. When we realized what it was we looked at it through the binoculars and then we could see it fairly well. It got bigger and better as it approached us and got higher in the sky. We could distinctly see the burn - flames etc. so it was pretty neat. We are glad we got up and watched it. Lucky it was a clear crisp night last night. Recently, until the last few days, we have had a lot of fog.

Anyhow thanks for the tip.

Joy & Laurie R.
Solana Beach, CA
August 11, 2011
Time: 7:45 AM
The Minotaur IV is a decommissioned MX ("Peacekeeper") ICBM that has been modified for use as an orbital (in this case, suborbital) booster by Orbital Sciences Corp. It's an all-solid-rocket vehicle. The payload for this flight is a hypersonic test article. It will be boosted into the upper atmosphere and released for a test flight followed by a splashdown (with no recovery) in the Pacific.
The flight was delayed from 8/10 due to weather conditions.
June 10, 2011
Time: 7:20:13 AM Pacific Time
A long-postponed (from 2009) Argentinian satellite was lifted into orbit by a Delta 2. (Delayed from June 9 due to a "software issue".)
April 14, 2011
Time: 9:24 PM
An Atlas V took a classified payload from the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office into orbit. (Postponed from April 12 to allow for an electronics package replacement.)
I got a decent shot from the hills near Murrieta
Best regards,
Murrieta, CA
March 4, 2011
Time: 2:09:43 AM
A Taurus (solid rocket vehicle manufactured by Orbital Sciences) launched, intended to lift GLORY, an atmospheric studies satellite, into orbit for NASA, along with three small academic payloads. Unfortunately, the payload fairing failed to separate, thereby preventing the payload from achieving orbit.
February 6, 2011
Time: 4:26 AM
A Minotaur I (derived from repurposed Minuteman II ICBM) launched a National Reconnaissance Office payload into orbit.
Delayed from February 5.
January 20, 2011
Time: 1:10 PM
A Delta 4-Heavy booster carried a National Reconnaissance Office payload into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base's Space Launch Complex 6. The Delta 4-Heavy is a big machine, comparable in payload and size to the Titan 4. It uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as its propellant and oxidizer, respectively. This results in a relatively dim exhaust "flame", and a relatively transparent exhaust (essentially steam).
November 5, 2010
Time: 7:20:03 PM
A Delta 2 launched the COSMO-SkyMed 4, a European Earth observation satellite. (Delayed several times, due to hardware problems.)
I was able to observe the launch reasonably well from my home in San Diego. After initially focusing on what turned out to be an aircraft that had just turned on its landing lights on approach to Lindbergh field, I finally located the vehicle climbing on its first stage engines at around 2 minutes 30 seconds into its flight (long after solid rocket booster burnout and jettison). I was easily able to fillow the vehicle's incandescent exhaust as it accelerated, finally climbing into the sun during last 30-45 seconds of the first stage burn. Once it got into the light, the typical bulbous form of the hyperexpanding exhaust was revealed. After first stage burnout, I was unable to track the second stage — which is not terribly surprising since the second stage engine is much smaller.
All in all, this flight resulted in a much better experience than I was expecting.
Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA
September 25 2010
Time: 9:41 PM
A Minotaur IV launched a surveillance satellite (SBSS).
The Minotaur is constructed largely from Peacekeeper missile hardware, all of which have been pulled from active service as a result of arms reduction treaties (Peacekeeper could carry up to 10 independently targeted warheads). This is an all-solid-propellant vehicle.
Launch was delayed several times until a software problem was resolved.
September 20, 2010
Time: 9:04 PM
An Atlas 5 launched a National Reconnaissance Office payload into orbit. Even the clouds covered up the launch, although it was broadcast on NASA-TV up until shroud jettison.
I am in South Pasadena (Los Angeles area) and my 5yr old son and I saw the Atlas-V launch tonight.

We were watching the live webcast of the countdown. At around T-5 seconds, the video froze and did not resume until T+15 sec. We ran outside at that time and observed stars and Jupiter overhead, but the western sky was hazy with a marine layer. It appeared foggy at the launch site in the video. I spotted it as a red dot which started to grow a little tail when it got about 30degs. above the horizon. The tail was about as big as your fingertip with your arm extended. We saw a silver dot trailing away and about 10 sec later we saw the red dot flicker and go out at what I believe was first stage cutoff.

It was about an hour past his bedtime and he was really tired. I think he was both a little excited and a little disappointed. Dad is much more excited by tiny dots in the sky.

Sorry no pictures.


Patrick W.
South Pasadena, CA
April 22, 2010
Time: 4:00 PM
A Minotaur IV launched a hypersonic research payload (HTV-2) into the atmosphere over the Pacific. (The test was apparently a failure, as telemetry was not received from the payload.) The Minotaur is constructed largely from Peacekeeper missile hardware, all of which have been pulled from active service as a result of arms reduction treaties (Peacekeeper could carry up to 10 independently targeted warheads). This is an all-solid-propellant vehicle.
December 14, 2009
Time: 6:09:33 AM
A Delta 2 launched an infrared observatory called WISE.
From San Diego, I was able to see the incandescent exhaust of the solid rocket boosters past my neighbor's trees. It was a dim red dot with a faint trail, that soon faded as the boosters burned out and the vehicle was hidden by haze and clouds. Then, around a minute later, the vehicle reached sunlight and the exhaust trail bloomed against a dark blue sky. The exhaust abruptly ended, although I could see a faint white dot continuing to accelerate southwards, presumably from the still-burning engine. I suspect that the vehicle was only briefly in sunlight during the launch.
Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA
October 18, 2009
Time: 9:12 AM
An Atlas 5 launched a DMSP (weather satellite) for the Defense Dept.
October 8, 2009
Time: 11:51:29 AM
A Delta 2 launced a commercial earth imaging satellite (WorldView 2) into orbit.
May 5, 2009
Time: 1:24:25 PM
A Delta 2 launched a R&D satellite into orbit for the Missile Defense Agency.
Watching from fifth floor of PCC's Building R, we saw a faint fast trail through the bright Pasadena haze. Hard to see . . . there was some wavy smoke doing a drifting fade-away back at the horizon/start.

Dave C
Pasadena, CA
February 24, 2009
Time: 1:55 AM
A Taurus XL lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at around 1:55 AM. Unfortunately, a malfunction (it appears the payload shroud failed to separate) prevented the vehicle from reaching orbit, and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory impacted the surface somewhere near Antarctica.
February 6, 2009
Time: 2:22 AM
A Delta 2 sent a weather satellite into orbit for the U.S. civilian NOAA agency. Delayed after problems with ground equipment on February 4 and 5. (Interesting note: this satellite, NOAA-N Prime, was damaged in September 2003, when it fell off a cart due to a rather simple and extremely costly human error.)
October 24, 2008
Time: 7:28:11 PM
A Delta 2 launched an Italian payload, COSMO-SkyMed, into orbit for the Italian Space Agency. The launch took place 80+ minutes after sunset, so the exhaust plume wasn't illuminated by the sun until very late in the flight. In San Diego, I was able to see the exhaust flame as the vehicle was due west, and sure enough, around 5 minutes after launch, I could see the plume -- for around a minute, until staging.

I saw this from Escondido, CA. It was spectacular! We had perfect visibility with stars at the horizon. I saw the vehicle at 19:30:28. No contrail, but a terrific flame plume that reminded me of a blowtorch. It was only about 10 degrees above the horizon. I thought I might see it stage, but instead at 19:33:00 the vehicle made it into sunlight and the exhaust lit up! I lost it at about that time. Verrrry nice and many thanks for the heads up.

David D.
Escondido, CA

September 6, 2008
Time: 11:51 AM
A Delta 2 launched GeoEye 1, a commercial imaging satellite, into orbit. (Delayed from 9/4/08 due to personnel travel difficulties induced by Hurricane Hanna.)
June 20, 2008
Time: 0:46:25 AM
A Delta 2 sent Jason 2, a scientific satellite designed to map the height of the ocean, into orbit.
April 2, 2008
Time: 1:01 AM
A Minuteman III will make a readiness test flight, sent a dummy warhead into the central Pacific at Kwajalein Atoll.
March 13, 2008
Time: 3:02 AM
An Atlas 5 christened a brand new pad with its exhaust, as it launched a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.
December 8, 2007
Time: 6:31:37 PM
A Delta 2 launched a commercial radar imaging payload (COSMO/SkyMed-2) into orbit during a 1-second-wide window. Since launch took place almost 2 hours after sunset, there was no "twilight effect" lighting. (Rescheduled from December 5, 6, and 7.)

So far, I have one report of a sighting, from subscriber Leora, 160 miles north, in Monterey County.
September 18, 2007
Time: 11:35 AM
A Delta 2 carried a commercial earth-imaging satellite (WorldView 1) to orbit.
June 7, 2007
Time: 7:34 PM

Delta climbing away from Vandenberg (2nd photo)
A Delta 2 placed an Italian radar Earth-imaging satellite in orbit. Since the launch took place 10-20 minutes before sunset, it was, sadly, invisible from San Diego. Well after sunset, some whisps of wind-blown exhaust trail were visible, glowing faintly above the fading twilight.
Attached are some shots of the Vandenberg rocket launch carrying an Italian satellite in its payload.

The AIDS LifeCycle ride was camped at River Park in Lompoc, and I picked up four people for dinner in Lompoc. After dinner, we drove out Ocean Avenue to catch the launch.

The first shot shows the rocket rising to the right of the setting sun. The second shows it rising (image at left). The third shows it nearly overhead. The fourth shows the group pointing to the rocket with the contrail visible to the right.
Lompoc, CA
April 25, 2007
Time: 1:26 PM
A Pegasus winged booster was launched from Orbital Science Corp's modified L-1011 airliner, successfully orbiting a NASA atmospheric research payload (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere -- AIM).
March 20, 2007
Time: 9:27 PM
A modified Minuteman II missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in to test radars associated with the National Missile Defense system. Because of the launch time and prevailing weather on the California Coast, this flight was not viewable outside of the immediate vicinity of VAFB.
February 7, 2007
Time: 12:14 AM
Flight readiness launch of a Minuteman III. As usual, this was a suborbital flight, tossing a dummy warhead into the Pacific Ocean, offshore from the Kwajalein Atoll.
December 14, 2006
Time: 1:00 PM
A Delta 2 sent a classified payload into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office.
November 4, 2006
Time: 5:53 AM
A Delta 4 launched a weather satellite into polar orbit for the benefit o the Department of Defense.
Although the launch took place shortly before sunrise, which ought to have enhanced the visibility, few people were able to observe the launch due to cloud cover.
Crystal clear conditions on the Central Coast allowed a spectacular view from my home in Pismo Beach this morning. I can still see swirls from the first stage contrail drifting eastward almost an hour after launch. The most interesting part of the launch was shortly after second stage separation when a tiny blue cloud formed at the point of separation which quickly grew to a impressive sun lit bright blue cloud about 5 degrees wide.

Todd Walker
Pismo Beach, CA
July 20, 2006
Time: 3:14 AM
A Minuteman III ICBM was flight tested, tossing its inert payload into the ocean near Kwajalein Atoll in the south central Pacific Ocean.
June 27, 2006
Time: 8:33 PM
The first Delta 4 to fly from Vandenberg orbited a reconnaissance payload. This vehicle launched with two strap-on solid rocket boosters. (This vehicle's launch was rescheduled numerous times, for various reasons, including a problem with cork insulation, and a dispute over fuel slosh dynamics during the coast to geosynchronous apogee.) The launch took place shortly after sunset, resulting in a light show that was visible over much of the southwestern U.S.
In Pasadena, we hung around in the back yard waiting for the launch. Gazed at a beautifully developing sunset while watching for the Delta. Quite worth it--DeMille quality. It burned a golden trail up to about 20 degrees elev., then ran straight left from west to south. This was one f-a-s-t moving machine. Saw nice plume at stage separation/burn. Residual clouds were a bit understated. Thanks, Dave Cuatt Pasadena, CA
June 14, 2006
Time: 1:22 AM
A Minuteman III ICBM was flight tested, tossing its inert payload into the ocean near Kwajalein Atoll in the south central Pacific Ocean.
April 28, 2006
Time: 3:02 AM
A Delta 2 finally launched two NASA weather research payloads, CloudSat and CALIPSO. (Rescheduled from April 21, then April 22, 23, 25, 26, 27,... -- okay, it only had a 1-second-long launch window)
April 14, 2006
Time: 6:40 PM
A Minotaur booster (Minuteman 2 lower stage, Pegasus upper stage) launched several small satellites to monitor climate change.
April 7, 2006
Time: 6:00 AM
A Minuteman 3 missile was flight-tested, tossing an inert warhead into the ocean off Kwajalein Atoll, in the South Pacific Ocean.
I had to be at work early today and was driving when the launch happened. From Culver City the first stage plume looked very large and bright white. Very easy to spot. The sad thing was my brain hadn't started to function yet--and I didn't know about the launch in advance. So when I first saw it I thought that it was maybe Venus with some costal fog hazing the view---causing it to appear blurry and bloom very, very wide.

By the time my brain reminded me that Venus could not have been in that position. It was too late to see anything...

Culver City, CA
March 22, 2006
Time: 6:03:45 AM
A Pegasus was dropped from the belly of Orbital Science's modified L-1011 airliner. This business-jet-sized vehicle ignited its solid rocket engine, and carried 3 small satellites for NASA.
February 16, 2006
Time: 12:01 AM
A Minuteman 3 missile was flight-tested, sending an inert warhead into the ocean off Kwajalein Atoll, in the South Pacific Ocean.
From Pasadena, a backyard skunk nearly cancelled viewing of a punctual launch -- a warm yellow ball rising in the west moving to the left (south), then seeming to pause before fading to black.
Skunk also launched, but missed.
Dave Cuatt
Pasadena, CA
Very nice launch! Saw it all the way to Orion's belt/M42 in the west.
Dave (Central Valley)
Crystal clear night as we watched the missile's flame create a beautiful reflection across the ocean. The flame turned from bright yellow to red as it crossed beneath Betelgeuse and across the chest of Orion as it faded from view. Dead silence was replaced by a loud low rumble that lasted for several minutes.
Todd and Jer
Pismo Heights, CA
October 19, 2005
Time: 11:05 AM
The last Titan IV (in fact, the very last Titan) launched a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload into orbit.
As expected, I was only able to observe the Titan 4 while the solid rocket boosters were burning. A relatively faint exhaust trail appeared from behind a building, and as I focused the binoculars on it, I could see a faint flame at the top. As the vehicle climbed, the flame became a little brighter (as the exhaust trail spread out due to the decreasing air pressure). As soon as the SRBs separated (and they got surprisingly bright after separation), there was nothing more to see of the core vehicle. The SRB's flashed a few times (while tumbling), and then faded away as they began their descent to a Pacific Ocean impact.

Goodbye Titan!
Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA

Wow! This was one day I was actually glad to be a taxpayer! My love and I parked at the North end of Union Sugar Road on the bank of the Santa Ynez river next to an immense field of artichokes, just under three miles from the launch pad. We could see the top 30 feet of the mobile service tower and the nose cone of the rocket through a grove of trees. The weather was perfect with only a few alto-nimbus clouds floating by.

Liftoff occurs, the last of the Titans slowly lifts up past the trees and comes into full view. Through binoculars we could see the lettering on the rocket. The flame was so very very bright, it burned an image in my retina that lasted for at least 20 minutes. The length of the flame was 3 or 4 times the length of the rocket itself. It only took a few seconds before the sound hit us. It started off as a loud low roar building into a thunderous clapping earth-shaking mind-blowing sound that will never be forgotten. The rocket turned to the South and pointed its engines almost directly at our location. You could actually feel the sound pressing against your skin and jostling your internal organs. When booster separation occurred, we could see both boosters tumbling down along with a mysterious 3rd piece of hardware we didn't expect to see. Everything faded into the sky except the wondrous contrail that looked like a 10 mile high thunderhead. We could still hear the rumble and crackle of the engines until 11:11, some 7 minutes after liftoff.

Inside tip for readers!: While we were driving back into Lompoc to get fuel, we came across a film crew with the biggest camera I have ever seen. There was tons of equipment including a generator to run it all. I stopped and asked where we could view the footage. The gentleman told me it's to be included in an upcoming pilot (working title "Space") on the Fox Network to be aired sometime between Spring and next Fall!

Todd Walker and Jer Jarvis
Pismo Beach, CA
The launch was visible (and quite audible) from here at Morro Bay in mostly clear but somewhat hazy conditions. Because of the southerly trajectory, we were watching the first stage main engine ignition, and solid burnout, from almost directly behind. I was watching with a 25cm astronomical telescope. It was a peculiar sight when the main (liquid fueled) engines turned on and began to push the smoke away from behind the vehicle -- suddenly we could see the flames from the solids much more brightly than before. My wife, watching without a telescope, remarked that it looked as if someone had turned on a sodium-vapor streetlight. The solids did seem to keep burning long after separation. Their crazy tumbling (still smoking as well) was amusing to watch. The main engines were still visible for a while as white points of light, but it was much more fun watching the solids zigzag around until they finally burned out and disappeared into the haze. When the noise showed up, it was appropriately impressive for one of the larger rockets launched from Vandenberg.

s Morro Bay, CA
September 22, 2005
Time: 7:24 PM - 7:40 PM
Copyright 2005 by Fred Bruenjes
A series of beautiful photos by Fred Bruenjes

Copyright 2005 by Jim Tolley
An excellent photo by Jim Tolley
A Minotaur (Minuteman II/Pegasus) orbited an Air Force test satellite in a spectacular twilight launch! This was one of the best Vandenberg launches we've seen in years. If you've got photos to share, get 'em to me!
I used this launch as an excuse to leave my sweaty elliptical trainer early, and got home just in time to drag my long-suffering wife out to the street in the off chance everything would happen on time. Just when I thought we were out of luck, there she bloomed! A brilliant white plume against the dark blue sky. In my binoculars, you could easily see the rapidly expanding plume being emitted from the tiny pinpoint of the vehicle. It's absolutely amazing how much of a visual display this tiny vehicle can produce! At least two distinct staging events plainly visible from here. Afterwards, there was a little bit of color in the now-loopy exhaust trail, but not much. Very satisfying!
Russ Schnapp
San Diego, CA
A bank of fog drifted in about 7PM and my heart sank. Walked back into work next to LAX quite depressed. "We won't see this one guys," I told my coworkers. At 7:22, I walked back out, just to see if I could get a glimpse. Just then, the fog parted, revealing some blue sky. Right on cue, the Minotaur roared brilliantly into view (no one out with me to share in the excitement) and provided a spectacular show, one of the best I've seen to date. I hope my son filmed it for me...I'll find out later. Bring on Delta IV and the mighty Titan IV!!!!
Steve Harte
Long Beach, CA
Copyright 2005 by Todd Ewing Copyright 2005 by Todd Ewing We were stunned by the light show of tonight's launch. Since we had never seen one of these launches before, my family and I were excited and puzzled by the brightly glowing exhaust trail. I heard a brief mention on the radio that it was a launch from Vandenberg, so I was able to find your website via Google. I took these photos from indoors looking out our west-facing window here in north San Diego County. The darker image of the rocket has some window reflection and the lighter image was taken with a three second exposure without any tripod (lots of hand jiggle). I retouched them slightly to lighten/darken them. I hope we see another launch like this again!
Todd Ewing
San Diego
We watched the launch from our deck in Pismo Heights 25 to 30 miles North of the launch pad. Everybody knows how incredible the contrail was from all the great pictures. The cool thing we noticed from up close was when the first stage separation took place where we witnessed roughly 50 or so pieces of bright burning metallic objects floating down from the event similar to a fireworks explosion.
Todd and Jer
Pismo Beach, CA
September 14, 2005
Time: 1:01 AM
Another Minuteman III test flight.
September 7, 2005
Time: 1:53 AM
Another Minuteman III (suborbital) test flight. Sent a dummy warhead into the water off Kwajalein Atoll, in the South Pacific Ocean.
I just thought I would write to say that I was here in the lab working late (as usual) and was looking forward to seeing the launch tonight from the roof of our lab, and take a time exposure. Unfortunately, I got distracted, saw the time was 1:56am and thought, "shoot, I blew it ...oh well, might as well go and look out of the window down the hall to see how clear it is. Hey, what is Mars doing in the west?"...and moving! Ran to get my binocs and got to watch the last minute or so of the ascent through the window. Might have been a bit more interesting with a moon behind it, but I did manage to see a big piece of some debris or something falling away for a few seconds about 15 seconds before the main cut off.

John D
Pasadena, CA
August 25, 2005
Time: 1:01 AM?
Another Minuteman III test flight.
July 21, 2005
Time: 1:01 AM
A Minuteman III test flight.
May 20, 2005
Time: 3:22:01 - 3:32:01 AM
A Delta 2 orbited a weather satellite for NOAA. (Rescheduled from May 11, 12 due to high winds; May 13 due to an electrical problem; May 14 due to concerns over payload contamination.)
April 15, 2005
Time: 10:21:49 - 10:28:49 AM
A Pegasus XL was launched from Orbital Science's StarGazer (a converted Lockheed L-1011), boosting a NASA autonomous rendezvous engineering test satellite (called DART) into orbit.
The launch came off on time, and DART was a partial success. It apparently approached the target satellite to within 300 feet. Unfortunately, it shut down at that point, without completing the rendezvous.
April 11, 2005
Time: 6:34 AM to 7:00 AM
A small solid rocket booster called a Minotaur launched a test satellite into orbit. The satellite, XSS-11, was built by the Air Force Research Library. The Minotaur consists of Minuteman II lower stages and Pegasus (sans wings) upper stages. The launch was not visible from San Diego, despite clear skies.

More reports and photos of recent launches

Vandenberg AFB Area Map (from Google Maps)
(Google Maps) Map of Vandenberg Air Force Base Area

An aerial photograph of the area is also available!
It's worth exploring Google's photo database a bit. For instance, here's a great aerial shot of SLC-6, which was developed for Space Shuttle launches, and was recently converted for use by Boeing for Delta 4 launches.

Other interesting links...

The NASA TV schedule can be viewed at And you can watch NASA TV itself on your cable or satellite TV, or on the web at
Fred Bruenjes has an excellent web site with photos of Rocket Launch contrails.
Brian Webb's home page has info on viewing and photographing launches from the VAFB area.
Dos Gatos Communications features Anthony Galván's photography of launches from nearby Vandenberg.
...and on a completely different coast, if you are at all interested in a tour of the Cape Canaveral Air Station, Rob Svirskas has done an excellent job of photographing many of the historical sites of the early space program. I heartily recommend Rob's CCAS Virtual Tour.
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