Spaceflight Insider

Launch Viewing Guide: ULA Atlas V 551 with MUOS-3

United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket VIF Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41 ULA photo credit - Copy

ULA is preparing to launch an Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-3 spacecraft on Jan. 20 at 7:42 p.m. EST (archive photo). Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — United Launch Alliance (ULA ) is getting ready to launch one of the company’s Atlas V 551 rockets on the first flight of the year for the booster. This particular Atlas will launch the third Mobile User Objective System (MUOS-3) satellite to orbit. The rocket will fly in what is known as the 551 configuration (that’s rocket scientist speak for a five meter fairing, five solid rocket motors and a single, Centaur engine in the rocket’s upper stage) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) in Florida. 

Liftoff is currently set to take place on Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 7:42 p.m. EDT (2342 GMT). But where do you go to watch it from? Which spots provide the best viewing opportunities? Which ones are horrible? What if you’re on a budget? Not all locations are ideal. While one spot might be perfect to view a Delta IV lift off, that same spot could be terrible when watching an Atlas V take to the skies. This is due to the sheer geographical size of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Here is SpaceFlight Insider’s recommendations for where to view the launch from:

Mobile User Objective System 3 MUOS-3 United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ULA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: ULA

While it might seem counter-intuitive, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex proper is actually not the best spot to view the launch from. From the Visitor Complex itself, the view is restricted with the many landmarks located there – making a clear view difficult at best. There are special tours however, such as to the Saturn V Center, which do provide excellent viewing – but these cost extra.

However, if you want to gain the full space “experience”– you can’t go wrong by going to the “VC.” You get to wander among the spacecraft and launch vehicles of days gone by, visit space shuttle Atlantis in her new $100 million exhibit and even meet an astronaut. To top it all off – you get to watch the most powerful version of the Atlas V blast off!

To find out more, click here: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex or call: 877.572.6401

Want to hear the iconic countdown procedure for yourself? No problem! Tune into 146.940 MHz and imagine you’re in launch control.

Port Canaveral: This is one of the better viewing locations to watch the Atlas V rocket carry the MUOS-3 spacecraft aloft from. Even better? It is free! It is incredibly easy to find, as well as filled with plenty of spots to park (so long as you arrive early). All you need to do is park along SR-528 in the Port/Cape Canaveral area. One needs only to look for the cars parked along the side of the road.

Okay, you’ve figured out where you want to watch the launch from – how do you get there?

Directions to Port Canaveral:  Take SR-528, “The Beachline” toward Titusville. After you reach the Port Canaveral area, take “Exit A North Terminals.” Once you’ve done that you will cross over a small drawbridge, go around the curve in the road – this will take you right behind the port. If you are coming from the opposite direction (the east) you will travel from A1A (this will eventually become SR-528). Click here for directions to the Port Canaveral area: Port Canaveral

Now what? Simple. Take loads of pictures and video and revel in the experience of a lifetime!

ULA Atlas V 541 NROL-67 launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 SLC-41 in Florida United Launch Alliance image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: United Launch Alliance


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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Actually that’s not accurate one of the best viewing of the ULA Atlas V for launch is right from Kennedy Space Center -Saturn 5 Rocket Museum on Merrit Island. Because it’s directly across from the launchpad. I am a tour guide that goes to Kennedy and have been at most of the launches since then. For a closer view than on US -528 or the Beachline at Port Canaveral.

Dear Michael,
Please read the review again. It says Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex proper – meaning the main site – not the Saturn V center. However, I can see how that can be confusing and will edit this and future reviews.
Sincerely and with kind regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

The Saturn V Center is included with General Admission. As well as on launch days. The problem is they only allow 2000 – 3000 capacity everyone else has to watch the launch from the Vicitor Complex. The only time you have to pay to go to the Satuen V for a launch with out GA was during a Shuttle Launch or possibly the upcoming EFT-1 Delta IV Heavy Launch. Thanks for the quick response Jason.

Hi Michael,
Your welcome, anytime!
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

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