Spaceflight Insider

Launch Viewing Guide: Best spots to watch TDRS L on ULA Atlas V light up the night

United Launch Alliance is poised to launch an Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 9:05 p.m. EST on Jan. 23. Photo Credit: John Studwell / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — United Launch Alliance (ULA) is getting ready to unleash one of the company’s venerable Atlas V rockets. This particular Atlas will launch the latest of NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay satellites, TDRS-L, to orbit. Atlas will fly in the 401 configuration (that’s rocket scientist speak for a four meter fairing, no solid rocket boosters and a single 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 January 23 at 9:05 p.m. EST.

But where do you go to watch 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 launch, that same spot could be terrible when viewing an Atlas V. This is due to the sheer geographical footprint of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

If you are going to be taking a cruise around that time – you are in for a treat. Port Canaveral is a highly popular public viewing spot – and it’s free! All you need to do is pull along the roadside on SR-528 or on SR-401. However, do yourself a favor, this method of rocket-watching has caught on and has become very popular – arrive early. You are approximately 10 miles away from the launch pad – but you can still hear the RD-180 engine proclaim loudly who’s the boss as it delivers TDRS-Linto the black.

While it might seem counter-intuitive, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is not the best spot to view the launch. From the Visitor Complex proper, the view is restricted with the many landmarks and guests making getting a clear view difficult. However, if you want to gain the full space “experience” – you can’t go wrong. You get to wander among the spacecraft and launch vehicles of days gone by, meet an astronaut and then cap all that off by seeing a launch. To find out more, click here: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex or call: 877.572.6401

As mentioned earlier, there are no solid rocket boosters on this rocket and it should rise skyward fairly slowly. Want to hear the iconic countdown procedure for yourself? No problem! Tune into 146.940 MHz and imagine you’re in launch control.

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

HOW TO GET 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). Not to beat a dead horse – but be sure to arrive early! Click here for directions to the Port Canaveral area: Port Canaveral

Now what? Simple. Enjoy the experience. Take loads of pictures and video – to make everyone who couldn’t make it miserable!

If everything goes according to plan, ULA's Atlas V 401 will take to the skies at 9:05 p.m. EST on January 23. Photo Credit: John Studwell / SpaceFlight Insider

If everything goes according to plan, ULA’s Atlas V 401 will take to the skies at 9:05 p.m. EST on January 23. Photo Credit: John Studwell / SpaceFlight Insider


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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.

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