Falcon9 OG2 launch and landing by Space X

Anatomy of the coolest streak shot I’ve ever taken:

By: Michael Seeley

This image is a composite of 4 images taken of the SpaceX #Falcon9 #OG2 launch and landing. The image I posted about 45 minutes after launch is a composite of the first and last images I took during this sequence.

First, my thanks to my wife Jennifer for putting up with my forced march to Jetty Park but in particular for driving us home after so I could process the images. As a result, I thought I had one of the first streaks posted, but in fact the ever-capable John Studwell beat me (with a truly stunning shot – well done John) by about 15 minutes. (Later I would see Jared Haworth’s on social media – his shot is amazing – my shot was posted before his only for reasons you’ll have to ask him about. He is my superior at speed-processing and uploading, so it was really unusual that my photo was up before his.) I blame my obsession with trying to clean the image of the blue squiggly lines from the people using cell phones (you didn’t need to hold them over your heads, people) in front of me. I spent at least 10 minutes fussing over them, but in the end I just left the blue lines in the frames.

In my haste I didn’t notice that in the later frames I caught more of the launch streak than I originally thought and I also caught just a bit of the initial burn during the re-entry of the first stage. So that’s all shown here.

The technical details:
Frame 1 is the launch streak (to the left) and is a 128 second exposure, from 8:28:36pm to 8:30:44pm.

Frame 2 is the faint (but visible) peak of the streak. I took 5 seconds to check the framing of the first streak, and triggered the camera at 8:30:49pm for a 94 second exposure that ended at 8:32:23pm.

Frame 3 is essentially the bright dot at the top of the frame. This is a 72 second exposure from 8:35:41pm to 8:36:53pm. There is a 3 minute 18 second gap between frames 2 and 3, during which time the rocket fired well above the frame, and stopped firing just as it entered the frame.

I’ll take a moment to add that the distance from where we were standing to the landing pad was 5.85 miles to the northeast, and during this initial burn, the rocket appeared to be heading right for us. I haven’t looked at the track of the first stage on a map, but it does make sense that it would have to move in a southwesterly direction to return home (aka right toward us), but it did cause a slight moment of pause err panic in me and those around us.

Frame 4 is, well, it is the reason we’re all giddy about this historic event. Two seconds after the third frame, I triggered an 81 second exposure starting at 8:36:55pm and ending at 8:38:16pm, after the rocket had disappeared behind the berm on the other side of the channel, and before the two sonic booms.

These frames are uncropped and unstraightened – if I straighten the frame, the small dot at the top of the frame (from frame 3) is lost. Also, you can see the heads of the people who were in front of us on the path…I dropped them out of the shot last night, but here they are in their cell-phone wielding splendor.

Other specs: The images are all shot at ISO 500 and f18, shot through a 17-40mm (set to 17mm) using a full-frame camera body. They were exported as layers from Lightroom to PhotoShop and were combined there.

My congratulations to the entire SpaceX team for this stunning accomplishment. Also, congratulations to the crew at 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. (who, for a brief time last night had the equivalent of a missile being shot at them) and also to Port Canaveral for hosting such a large group of launch viewers.