Rocket Lab vapour trail

Thank you Rocket Lab

This is a perfect example of being in the right place at (almost) the right time. We’d just turned onto the gravel access road towards the Mangatepopo end of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing when suddenly, the most amazing vapour trail started to form over Mt Ngauruhoe. It was unlike any vapour trail we’d ever seen and we were at a bit of a loss as to what we were seeing. Was it a plane, a meteor skimming the atmosphere or some space junk returning to earth? Turns out it was Rocket Lab’s latest Electron rocket which lifted off from Mahia Peninsula about 200km to the east of us.

Google map - Mahia Peninsula to Ngauruhoe

The rocket launched at 6.09am and at 6.12am, based on the timestamp of our first photo, the rocket was at an altitude of around 115km, travelling at over 8,200km per hour. Unfortunately, we were totally unprepared for this so by the time we’d gotten our proper camera out, the vapour trail had already started to dissipate, but here’s a shot we managed to capture with our phone.

Rocket Lab vapour trail

Based on Rocket Lab’s launch timings, what we managed to capture was Main Engine Cut Off (MECO) on Electron’s first stage, the separation of Stages 1 and 2, and the ignition of the Stage 2 Rutherford engine. Pretty cool right!

To see this from Rocket Lab’s point of view, you can watch the recording of the launch here on YouTube.

For those of you interested to know a bit more about this particular mission, here’s some detail from the official press kit:

Launching from Pad B at Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, Rocket Lab will deliver General Atomics’ GAzelle satellite carrying Argos-4 to orbit.
The Argos-4 payload is part of the international Argos program that collects data from thousands of sensors and transmitters located around the world.

Argos data is collected and distributed for use in numerous applications, and helps provide a better understanding of Earth’s physical and biological environment, including its weather and climate, biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as assist with maritime security, offshore pollution, and humanitarian assistance. Information gathered via the Argos system also enables industries to comply with environmental protection regulations. Argos has most famously been used to track wildlife, particularly marine mammals and sea turtles since the 1980s. There are currently 22,000 active transmitters around the world that the Argos system is monitoring, with almost 7,800 tracking wildlife.

For more information about Rocket Lab and their upcoming missions, head on over to Rocket Lab USA. We’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on the launch schedule so that next time we can be a little better prepared to capture their amazing work.

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