Launch of STS 125

Coverage started 2009 May 8

Updated 2009 May 8 (Updated VDF to show annotations of key events)

Updated 2009 May 11 (Updated to reflect new launch time)

STS 125 (Atlantis) is currently scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Launch Complex 39A, to repair the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) at 14:01:56.000 Eastern Daylight Time on 2009 May 11 (18:01:56.000 UTC). To help illustrate this event, I created an STK Viewer file for the ascent portion of the launch trajectory—from liftoff to main engine cutoff (MECO)—using data obtained from NASA.

Download STS 125 Launch Scenario

Unfortunately, as currently scheduled, this launch is set to go at mid-day on the US East Coast, so it won't be as easily visible as the recent night launches. Plus, since it is going to repair the Hubble Space Telescope—which is in a lower inclination orbit than the International Space Station (ISS)—visibility will be limited to the southeastern US (since STS 125 will be launching due east). Of course, I am always interested to hear reports of successful sightings of the launch, so feel free to send them to me via e-mail, along with suggestions for how I could make this information more useful.

To give a sense of what can be seen in the STK Viewer file, some selected screen shots are included below, along with a description of the information provided herein.

The scenario starts at 14:01:19.000 EDT, just 30 seconds before liftoff (Note: Animations and graphics still reflect original launch time of 18:01:49 UTC). Animating the launch sequence shows the ignition of the main engines at T-6.6 sec followed by the SRB ignition at T-0. The scenario then proceeds through the roll program at T+10 sec to T+15 sec, SRB separation at T+2:02, and ends at MECO at T+8:34.8 (that's all the data we were able to get for this launch).

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (T-0)

There are four predefined views with closeups of the space shuttle throughout the ascent phase: one from the side, one from the front, one from the back, and a new view from the RocketCam (see below). An example of the side view at T-0 is shown above. In the upper-left corner, each view shows the current local time, the latitude and longitude of the orbiter, the altitude (of the center of mass) of the orbiter above mean sea level (MSL), the orbiter's total speed, and the downrange distance. In the lower-left corner, there is information on the latitude, longitude, and altitude of the observation point, along with the distance to the space shuttle. The Mission Elapsed Time (MET) and time step are also shown here, along with a compass to give a basic idea of the oritation of the field of view.

A Google Earth location file of the launch scenario, is also available, but it doesn't have all the nice features of the STK Viewer file. Information is contained in that file for how to use it.

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (Overhead view)

Throughout the ascent phase, it is easy to see the launch from a variety of viewpoints, with full control of the vantage point and time—all without that pesky smoke from the SRBs—such as the view below as the space shuttle clears the launch tower.

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (T+4)

Here's the new view I added from the RocketCam on the External Tank. The shot below shows the RocketCam view looking down at Launch Complexes 39A and 39B, 30 seconds after liftoff.

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (RocketCam on External Tank)

Of course, the STK Viewer file gives you the ability to change viewpoints to more closely examine various aspects of a given event, such as SRB separation. The three images below show views from the front and rear of the orbiter, and from the RocketCam, just after SRB separation, using the front and rear predefined viewpoints.

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (SRB separation, front view)

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (SRB separation, rear view)

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (SRB separation, RocketCam view)

There are also predefined viewpoints from 23 cities up and down the East Coast of the United States and Canada, as seen from the predefined home view for the scenario, just prior to MECO. The trajectories for both STS 125 and the HST show points at 30-sec intervals (e.g., at 14:03:19 EDT) to make it easier to determine their position at any particular time. The figure below also shows areas on the ground at each 30-sec point where STS 125 is above the local horizon. Note that many of the 23 cities will not have visibility for this launch (STS 125 will be below the local horizon).

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (Space view, East Coast)

There are predefined views included from the following cities:

CityRise TimeSet TimeMax
Albany, New York—   
Atlanta, Georgia 14:03:38 EDT14:08:08 EDT 3.0 deg   
Atlantic City, New Jersey —   
Baltimore, Maryland —   
Boston, Massachussetts —   
Greensboro, North Carolina 14:04:03 EDT14:08:59 EDT 2.9 deg   
Halifax, Novia Scotia —   
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania —   
Hartford, Connecticut —   
Jacksonville, Florida 14:02:22 EDT14:09:23 EDT13.3 deg   
Miami, Florida 14:02:39 EDT14:09:01 EDT13.1 deg   
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 14:03:20 EDT14:09:48 EDT 7.4 deg   
New York, New York —   
Norfolk, Virginia 14:04:38 EDT14:09:42 EDT 2.6 deg   
Orlando, Florida 14:02:01 EDT14:09:26 EDT20.7 deg   
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania —   
Portland, Maine —   
Portsmouth, New Hampshire —   
Roanoke, Virginia 14:04:40 EDT14:08:24 EDT 1.5 deg   
Savannah, Georgia 14:02:50 EDT14:09:25 EDT 9.3 deg   
Spartanburg, South Carolina 14:03:43 EDT14:08:41 EDT 3.4 deg   
Washington DC 14:06:21 EDT14:07:50 EDT 0.2 deg   
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania —   
Note: MECO is at 14:10:24.8 EDT.

Each city view looks toward the space shuttle throughout ascent, showing when the orbiter will be above or below the local horizon, as seen in the sample view from Orlando below. Note that the thick portion of the ascent profile is from launch up to SRB separation and the thin portion is from that point until MECO.

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Screen shot from STK Viewer file of STS 125 launch (View from Orlando, Florida)

I hope you find this information both informative and helpful in sighting the launch of STS 125. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

For more information on the STS 125 mission, see:

Note: STK Viewer is a free product which allows anyone with a Windows computer to view an STK (System Tool Kit) scenario. With it, you can animate a scenario forward or backward, pause the animation, and zoom or pan the view for a more complete understanding of the event. Just like with Adobe Acrobat, where the authoring software requires a license but the Adobe Reader is free, STK can produce STK Viewer files—also known as VDFs—which can then be viewed by anyone with the STK Viewer software. You can find the free STK Viewer on CelesTrak here. - TS

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