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What is it like to attend a SpaceX launch?

Seeing a SpaceX launch first hand is one of the most miraculous experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. To see all the hard work that went behind planning and building the Aireon payloads, and Iridium NEXT satellites being sent into orbit, is quite the rewarding feeling.

I had the privilege of attending the 4th Iridium NEXT launch on December 22nd, 2017, which created quite the buzz on the internet. Something about this launch was special, because the sun was setting and the sky was clear. You could see almost every stage happening right in front of your eyes.

Attending a SpaceX launch as a guest has its perks. As a guest, you are set up in a tent with food and refreshments, while everyone gathers to view the launch together.  There’s this unique aspect to attending a launch with customers, partners and other professional colleagues. Seeing everyone out of their normal element, accompanied with their families in this unique environment is refreshing.  I appreciated being able to connect on a more personal level and experience this once-in-a-lifetime event with SpaceX, Iridium, airline customers, and all of Aireon’s many partners. The atmosphere is silent as the countdown to launch approaches and jaws drop as you look up at the unbelievable sight with applauding here and there.

The most incredible part of the launch was seeing the first stage cut-off and switch to the second stage. As the first stage came down, sunlight hit the exhaust plumes causing them to luminate in the sky.  You could actually see the nitrogen thrusts coming off of the first stage as it came down, something that I had not yet seen at a launch before.  There were two white dots that appeared in the sky, which I later learned were payload fairings that come off after the first stage.

I applaud SpaceX for their great work executing the Iridium NEXT launches. These launches are truly astounding to see first-hand. I, too, am proud to be a part of Aireon. With four successful Iridium NEXT launches, we are more than half way to becoming operational, providing the first real-time, 100 percent global air traffic surveillance system.  This will be a gamechanger to improve efficiency, enhance safety, and reduce emissions.

Written by Vincent Capezzuto, Aireon’s Chief Technology Officer and VP of Engineering