Spaceflight Insider

Space Coast residents may hear sonic boom during SpaceX landing attempt

Artist rendition of landing

An artist’s depiction of two side-mount boosters from the future Falcon Heavy landing at Landing Complex 1. Image Credit: SpaceX

Space Coast residents may experience their first sonic boom in years when SpaceX conducts their inaugural attempt to land a Falcon 9 first stage back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

As anticipated, following the successful “static fire” test of the upgraded Falcon 9 “Full Thrust” rocket at Launch Complex 40 (LC-40), SpaceX confirmed on Saturday that the company was targeting the launch of 11 ORBCOMM satellites for Sunday, Dec. 20. The 60-second launch window opens at 8:29 p.m. EST (01:29 GMT Monday). If needed, a backup launch opportunity is available on Dec. 21.

LC-1 in January 2015

Landing Complex 1 in January 2015. The site was still undergoing remediation and rehabilitation at the time. Photo Credit: Sean Costello / Spaceflight Insider

“Currently looking good for a Sunday night (∼8pm local) attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral”, Elon Musk tweeted.

Unique to the planned activities following this launch is the secondary test objective of landing the first stage on land for the first time. After pushing the second stage uphill, the first stage booster will turn around and reignite its engines to push itself back toward Florida. It will then descend toward SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1, also known as Landing Complex 1 (LC-1).

The complex is part of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and was leased to SpaceX for a five-year period, as announced jointly on February 10, 2015. LC-1 was previously known as Space Launch Complex 13 (SLC-13), and was the oldest and most frequently used complex (of four: SLC-11, SLC-12, SLC-13, and SLC-14) for launching Atlas rockets. The final rocket launch from SLC-13 took place in April 1978.

During a site visit to SLC-13, in the weeks prior to the USAF-SpaceX lease being announced, the site remediation and rehabilitation efforts could be seen to be well underway, preceding the eventual reconstruction and site remodeling efforts which would be required to prepare Landing Zone 1 for the historic Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) landing attempt.

Referencing the diagrams and illustrations produced by Gator Engineering and Aquifer Restoration, Inc. for inclusion within an October 2014 version of the environmental assessment for the complex, the approximate location of the planned main landing pad was located as being on the edge of a then-present dirt mound on the eastern edge of SLC-13, surrounded by light scrub bush and some, but very few, remnants of the storied complex’s active history.


Image Credit: Patrick Air Force Base

Stay alert for a possible sonic boom at, or around, 8:38–8:40 p.m. EST

Landing Complex 1

Photo Credit: SpaceX

Also illustrated and described within the 88-page document are the potential behaviors and possible geographic areas where a sonic boom might possibly be heard, as a function of the supersonic RLV passing through the atmosphere.

Weather and other factors will determine whether residents actually hear the thunder-like boom shortly after (approximately 9–10 minutes) launch, but the greatest likelihood to hear the brief over-pressure event in person will come to those located in the communities of Cape Canaveral, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach, Courtenay, Merritt Island, Mims, Port Canaveral, Port St. John, Rockledge, Scottsmoor, Sharpes, and Titusville.

As with most launch events from Cape Canaveral, SpaceFlight Insider will be at the Cape with our visual team capturing and sharing “up-close and personal” video and still images. Additionally, our SpaceFlight Insider: LIVE webcast team will be bringing you a pre-launch show with up-to-the-minute updates and developments regarding the OG2 launch and anticipated RLV “boost-back” terrestrial landing event. Tune in live at our Mission Monitor from 8 p.m. EST to approximately 8:45 p.m. EST (01:00 GMT to 01:45 GMT Monday).


Image Credit: Patrick Air Force Base


Sean Costello is a technology professional who also researches, writes about and speaks publicly on the inspiring lessons within international space flight program. Prior to joining SpaceFlight Insider in early 2014, Costello was a freelance photographer and correspondent covering shuttle-era Kennedy Space Center launches for various radio and print news organizations.

Reader Comments

Awesome, didn’t even think about the possibility of a sonic boom. Thanks!

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