The launch of SpaceX’s most powerful rocket over the weekend was visible from orbit.
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy lifted off Sunday (Jan. 15) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, sending multiple satellites aloft for the U.S. Space Force on a mission called USSF-67.
Photographers on the ground captured great shots of the launch. One off-Earth observer did as well — the International Space Station (ISS), which happened to be in the right place at the right time on Sunday.
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“An external high-definition camera on the International Space Station captured the launch plume of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket after it had ascended to Earth orbit following its liftoff on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida,” NASA officials wrote in a description of the photo (opens in new tab).
“The space station was flying 262 miles [422 kilometers] above the Atlantic Ocean just after an orbital sunset at the time of this photograph,” they added.
USSF-67 was the fifth-ever mission for the Falcon Heavy, which employs three strapped-together Falcon 9 first stages. The flight lofted a military communications satellite called Continuous Broadcast Augmenting SATCOM 2 and five smaller spacecraft for the Space Force.
The Heavy, which generates more than 5 million tons of thrust at liftoff, was until recently the most powerful operational rocket in the world. NASA’s huge Space Launch System (SLS) claimed that title when it launched for the first time on Nov. 16, 2022, on the agency’s Artemis 1 moon mission. (The SLS generates about 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.)
SpaceX launched 61 orbital missions in 2022, and 2023 could be an even bigger year for the company. SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said last August (opens in new tab) that the company was “aiming for up to 100 flights” in 2023.
SpaceX has launched five missions so far this year, including two in the past two days. USSF-67 was the only mission of these five to use a Falcon Heavy; the other four employed Falcon 9s.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).