Photographing an Antares rocket launch at Wallops Island
Photos and text by Dylan Slagle
Carrying about 7,400 pounds of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station, Orbital ATK’s eighth contracted cargo resupply mission blasted off Sunday, after a 24-hour delay, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Cygnus spacecraft, named S.S. Gene Cernan for the former NASA astronaut who is the last person to have walked on the moon, was carried into space on an upgraded Antares rocket. It was the second Orbital ATK flight from Wallops since a catastrophic explosion damaged the facility in October 2014.
Depending on weather conditions, rocket launches from Wallops Island, which is about 175 miles from Baltimore, are visible up and down the East Coast, especially at night.
Because of the inherent danger and the violent release of energy necessary to send a rocket into orbit, the nearest safe vantage point to watch or photograph a rocket launch is couple of miles away. In order to capture dramatic, up close photos and videos of the launch, photographers place remote cameras near the launch pad a day or more before the flight. These remote cameras are usually sound-activated by the deafening roar of the vehicle’s engines coming to life, or programmed to fire at a predetermined time to capture the launch. Because they are set up days in advance, the remote cameras must be protected from the elements, carefully secured to the ground, and often employ homemade solutions like timed trap doors and electric heaters to keep their lenses clear and dew-free.