What's a 'space jellyfish'? One might show up for Florida's next SpaceX Starlink launch

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket could illuminate the twilight sky above Kennedy Space Center on Friday, possibly producing a “space jellyfish” just after liftoff.

Barring weather or technical issues, the 230-foot rocket will fly from pad 39A on a northeastern trajectory to deliver the 45th batch of Starlink internet satellites to low-Earth orbit. Teams are targeting 5:47 a.m. EDT for liftoff; sunrise is less than an hour later. 

The mission’s timing raises the strong possibility of spectators getting a look at the “space jellyfish” effect produced by a rocket’s exhaust plume high in the atmosphere. While it’s mostly dark on the ground, Falcon 9 will rapidly ascend to intersect with the day’s first light and, if skies are clear, put on a show as the crystallized plume expands in its wake.

The effect can last for several minutes and, in some instances, is visible over an hour later.

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The Space Force on Tuesday said weather should be 90% “go” during the brief launch window. That “percent go” calculation, however, only applies to weather immediately around the pad – other variables like upper-level winds aren’t included, but forecasters did say they would be a “moderate risk” for Friday’s attempt.

“By Friday morning … winds to shift to the south-southwest and offshore, which will lower the probability of morning showers impacting the spaceport during the primary launch window,” Space Launch Delta 45 forecasters said Tuesday. “Aside from possible wind shear aloft, the weather looks excellent for a launch attempt Friday morning with the cumulus cloud rule being the only concern.”

Upper-level winds can damage or destroy rockets traveling hundreds of miles an hour high in the atmosphere. At those velocities, winds can essentially become a solid wall standing in the way of reaching orbit.

In the event of a delay to Saturday, conditions should remain roughly the same at 80% “go.” While upper-level winds improve compared to Friday, at-sea conditions in the Atlantic Ocean will take a dip to “moderate risk” for a drone ship to catch the rocket’s first stage booster.

This mission will mark SpaceX’s 45th for Starlink, a constellation of more than 2,000 satellites in Earth orbit that beams internet connectivity down to the surface for prices ranging from $99 to $499 a month. SpaceX recently announced a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines, which will use the service to offer free in-flight internet to passengers.

For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.

Contact Emre Kelly at [email protected] or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.

Launch Friday, May 6

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Mission: 45th Starlink launch
  • Launch Time: Between 5:21 a.m. and 6:21 a.m. ET
  • Launch Pad: 39A at Kennedy Space Center
  • Liftoff Weather: 90% “go,” but upper-level winds a concern
  • Trajectory: Northeast
  • Landing: Drone Ship
  • Landing Weather: Low-risk

Visit floridatoday.com/space at 4 a.m. ET Friday, May 6, for real-time updates and video.

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