Early risers across Florida were treated to a morning spectacle on Thursday when a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket vaulted off the pad at Cape Canaveral, its massive exhaust plume illuminated by sunlight waiting just over the horizon.
Shortly after the 6:13 a.m. liftoff from Launch Complex 41, exhaust produced by the RD-180 engine and five solid rocket motors interacted with sunlight high in the atmosphere, creating a “jellyfish effect” seen as far as the state’s west coast.
On board the 200-foot-tall rocket was the fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequencyspacecraft, a military communications satellite.
AEHF-5 was slated to reach its intended orbit on the rocket’s second stage about five-and-a-half hours after liftoff, or just before noon Thursday.
The launch wrapped up a busy week for the Eastern Range, which also hosted a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch on Tuesday.
But the month has at least one more mission: a ULA Delta IV rocket — the last of its kind — is slated to launch no earlier than Aug. 22.