Predawn Atlas V launch visible for hundreds of miles

Atlas V launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An Atlas V rocket flashed through the predawn sky as it blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:28 a.m. Friday. It carried a a Mexican government communications satellite toward orbit on United Launch Alliance’s 100th mission.

The launch from Launch Complex 41 used 1.6 million pounds of thrust, lighting up a low deck of clouds before shooting through into darkness.

The rocket with  Mexican communication satellite left swirls of vapor from it contrails in the Floridas sky that could be seen as far south as Miami. The white streaks stood out clearly in the ink blue of the early morning as the waning gibbous moon still hung high

Instead of at the opening of Friday’s 20-minute window, liftoff came at the end of it.

The launch came after several holds including a dramatic hold with less than a minute left in the countdown when a boat strayed into the hazard area, USA Today reported.

Weather conditions, including a towering 13,000-foot cloud also kept the attention of NASA and U.S. Air Force range officers.

“It just added excitement to the mission,” said Omar Charfen, the Mexsat program manager. “It’s a long flight, so we still need to wait until the end.”

The Boeing made Morelos-3, the third of three ordered from Boeing to form Mexico’s $1 billion Mexsat constellation, was deployed 2 hours and 52 minutes after liftoff on a trajectory that put it 22,300 miles over the equator.

Two more Atlas Vs could launch this month, including a national security satellite targeting a liftoff next Thursday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Launch of a Global Positioning System satellite from Cape Canaveral is planned at the end of the month.

United Launch Alliance is a joint venture owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which merged their Atlas and Delta rocket fleets in December 2006.

The Colorado-based company has a near-perfect launch record since then, but is beginning an overhaul to phase out use of the Atlas V’s Russian main engine and lower costs to compete with SpaceX and international competitors in the commercial launch market.

United Launch Alliance has begun developing the new Vulcan rocket, which it hopes will be ready to fly for the first time in 2019.