CAPE CANAVERAL: Throngs of crowds have begun arriving on the Space Coast in anticipation of the demonstration launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. This demonstration mission will be the first time this rocket, with 27 Merlin engines flies. Tourists from around the world are planning a trip to witness the first launch as Elon Musk attempts to put his Cherry Red Tesla Roadster into a heliocentric orbit near Mars. Here’s what you need to know if you are coming for the launch and landing.
Where to Watch the Launch
- Delaware North Corporation, operators of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center have sold out of launch viewing tickets. They sold 3000 tickets for their Feel the Heat package and up to 3000 more tickets for various other viewing options. Expect traffic on Route 405 approaching Kennedy Space Center to be congested before and after the launch. Delaware North has attempted to ease the traffic situation by assigning an arrival time for each parking placard. It is hard to say if this will help or not. People who purchased tickets early received their parking placard via FedEx. Those who purchased later will have to arrive at the Visitor Complex Monday afternoon to get their parking placard ahead of time. Expect traffic as the 4PM deadline nears.
- North of the launch pad, Playalinda Beach will open at 6AM on Tuesday and will stay open until all 13 parking lots are full. Admission is $10 per car. Clothing is optional near Parking lot 13, but the area is family-friendly everywhere else.
- South of the launch pad, Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral will open at 5AM on Tuesday. Admission is $15 per car. Take the exit for the “B” side of the port and follow the road all the way north.
- There is room for 200 cars along State Route 401 at the “A” side of the port. No one enforces the “No Parking” signs on launch day.
- Just west of the port there are several fishing spots along State Route 528. If you score a free parking spot there, you will have a straight view across the Banana River for launch and landing.
- At Port Canaveral, Exploration Tower is closed for a private SpaceX event. But the upper deck at Fishlips (610 Glen Cheek Dr, Port Canaveral, FL 32920) will have a great view of the launch and landing. Several other restaurants are adjacent and will have good views.
- How is your presidential history? In Cape Canaveral, choose your favorite president, from Washington to Harding. Most of the presidential streets in Cape Canaveral, from Washington on the north to Harding in the south will dead-end at the ocean. Each street has a parking area for 10-15 cars. Parking is free on the President streets.
- Further south, the Cocoa Beach Pier charges $2 per person to walk to the end of the pier. Parking is $15 per car in the Pier parking lot. Or, park on any of the adjacent side streets. Parking on those streets is twenty five cents per quarter hour. Bring a pocketful of quarters or pay using the MobileNow phone app.
- In Titusville, a pedestrian walkway along the Max Brewer Bridge offers an unobstructed view of the launch pad. There is a large parking lot on either side of the bridge.
- Also in Titusville, any of the public parks along US – 1 will offer a view of the launch across the Indian River.
- Several boat charter companies are offering viewing by boat. Make sure that your captain understands the restricted zones, or you will end up being the Wayward Boat who must deal with the wrath of the helicopters of the 920th Rescue Wing. This is serious: if your boat encroaches in the restricted zone after fueling has begun and the helicopters can’t get you out of the area, you will be responsible for a scrub.
- Anywhere in Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Merritt Island, or Titusville will have a view of the Falcon Heavy in flight. You will see the rocket, hear the rocket, see the return, and hear the four sonic booms.
Contingency Plans for a Scrub
Rockets are complicated. If SpaceX detects a faulty sensor on the Falcon Heavy, they might scrub the launch for the day. There is a backup launch attempt on February 7th. If the rocket scrubs on both the 6th & 7th, complicated rules from the USAF Eastern Range would make an attempt on the 8th unlikely. A looming government shutdown late on the 8th would delay the Falcon Heavy launch until the government re-opens. Have a cell phone connected to Spacex.com/webcast to learn of a scrub.
The Webcast is Delayed
If you are listening to the webcast, be aware that it takes 30-90 seconds for the webcast to reach you. Do not rely on the webcast to count down 10, 9, 8…. The rocket will be gone by then. Listen to the webcast. They will announce the T-Zero time. SpaceX always launches at the “top of the minute”, so if they announce a new T-Zero of 1:47 PM, get out your cell phone and expect a launch at 1:47:00. If you are at KSC and listening on the public address system, they will be dialed in to the SpaceX Countdown Net and the announcements will be on time.
Bill Nye the Science Guy will be the emcee for those with KSC Feel the Heat tickets. Harrison Ford aka Han Solo from Millennium Falcon fame will be in town for the launch. Will Elon Musk be in town? It is likely, but any SpaceX after-launch parties will be private events.
Watching the Weather
The latest weather report is posted daily at the 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron page. Keep an eye on two important numbers: The Launch Day probability of violating launch weather constraints and Delay Day Probability of violating launch weather constraints. You want a low number here. A 20% chance of violating launch constraints means the weather is 80% go. Also – with a three hour window, the weather might delay the launch, but it not likely to cause a scrub. Storms come and go quickly in Florida.
What to Watch For During Launch and Landing
From lift-off, the Falcon-Heavy side cores will burn at 100% for just over 90 seconds. The exhaust flames begin to turn orange and then red as they run out of fuel. After those engines cut-off, you should be able to see the two side-cores fall away from the rocket. The center rocket core has been conserving fuel and will return to 100% thrust as the side engines fall away. Expect up to another 75 seconds of thrust from the center core. Listen on the webcast as they announce MECO – Main Engine Cut Off. At this point, the second stage will separate from the first core. You might be able to see the second stage engines light.
This next part is confusing: Rockets go up and then turn down range. When you see the side cores fall away, the main engine stack will look like it is traveling horizontally thanks to the curvature of the Earth. You are going to be watching for a short boostback burn from each of the side cores. This always happen high in the sky – almost directly above you. In photographs, the boostback burn is at a higher altitude than the path of the second stage. Look high to see this. When the boost-back burn happens, follow the path of the two Falcon 9 rocket cores as they fall back to Earth. In the 30 seconds before landing, a landing burn will slow the rocket. You will hear two loud sonic booms just as the rocket touch down. 15 seconds later, the second side core will land.
After the Launch – Eat Where the Astronauts Ate
Traffic after the launch will be slow. It is best to hang out in Cocoa Beach until traffic subsides. The Mousetrap, Johnny’s Hideaway, Bernard’s Surf, Pillow Talk Lounge, the Samoa, Nort’s Vanguard Lounge and other astronaut hangouts are all history. But just about any mom-and-pop restaurant is likely to have autographed astronaut photos on their wall. Here are some favorites:
- The Moon Hut restaurant at 7802 N. Atlantic Avenue in Cape Canaveral was established in 1958 and catered to people in the space industry. Today, the restaurant is La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant, but the banquet room in the back is still filled with memorabilia from the space program.
- Shuttles Restaurant is the first restaurant south of KSC. Chef Dan is operating on an 11AM to 3PM limited lunch schedule. 6100 N Courtenay Pkwy, Merritt Island, FL 32953. Ask the waitress about the day that Elon Musk stopped by with a large contingent of SpaceX employees. A lot of launch photos and astronaut photos line the walls. If you get to Shuttles after they close, check out King’s Duck Inn (or simply KDI in the acronym-filled world of NASA/KSC). There are some space paintings on the walls. 4155 N Courtenay Pkwy, Merritt Island, FL 32953 Open 11 AM to 11 PM. The kitchen usually closes by 10.
- If you think that Zarrella’s Italian & Wood Fired Pizza sounds familiar, you might be thinking of CNN’s space reporter, John Zarrella. John’s four sons have opened this restaurant at 8801 Astronaut Blvd, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920 and it has become a favorite of Space Hipsters.
- You can often spot SpaceX employees dining at The Preacher Bar, 8699 Astronaut Blvd, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920. Their decor is focused on Día de Muertos and not space. I guess if I worked with rockets all day, I would want to unwind someplace without rockets on the walls.
Other Space-Related Things to See and Do
- I Dream of Jeannie Lane: In 1965, a zany sitcom about Astronaut Tony Nelson was set in Cocoa Beach. 40 years later, a tiny street in Lori Wilson park was renamed I Dream of Jeannie Lane. If you’ve traveled to the Space Coast with your dog, there is a nice fenced-in dog park at the south entrance to Lori Wilson Park. 1500 N Atlantic Ave, Cocoa Beach.
- The Sands Space History Center will be open Wednesday through Friday from 9AM to 2PM. Saturday 9AM to 5PM and Sunday Noon to 4PM. 100 Spaceport Way, Cape Canaveral. They have displays on all of the launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and experienced docents who spent a career working with rockets. Admission is free. Check out their gift shop with unique items. Note that the Sands History Center is always closed on launch day due to security around SpaceX Launch and Landing Control.
- The American Space Museum and Walk of Fame in Titusville. Admission is $10. Open 10 AM to 5PM Monday through Saturday.