So…. You’re in Florida and want to watch a rocket launch huh? Perhaps Falcon Heavy? Maybe another SpaceX launch, or even a different launch provider’s rocket. Well, today I wanted to give you a rundown on the best locations for watching rockets launch on the space coast. We’ll show you pictures and videos from each location to help you make the best decision on launch day.
I also got tips from people on twitter to give you some advice on how to best be prepared for launch day!
But say you can’t make it down to Florida, where can you watch online? I’ll let you know the best places for that too!
This particular post will be timed out with the maiden launch of Falcon Heavy, so those of you trying to catch this exciting launch in person will know exactly where to watch. But WAIT, Tim, I’m from the future and the Falcon Heavy already launched! Well, guess what future people, you’re in luck.
This article is applicable for all launches from Florida. BUT, please note, this article will only be for Florida launches, we’ll do another one specific to launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California or maybe other launch sites as well in a future article.
And may I add one more suggestion here quickly. If you’re going to watch a SpaceX launch and need a quick rundown on all things SpaceX, including launch vocabulary, what rockets they launch, where they launch and where they land, make sure and check out my complete guide to SpaceX series.
So first off. You’re looking to watch a launch, either in person or online. You’re going to want to stay tuned to the launch date and time. And by stay tuned in, I mean stay tuned in.
The date you see on any launch is a NET date, and that stands for No Earlier Than… this is important… Plan on rocket launch dates changing. The further out you are, say a month or more, the more likely the date is to change. The closer you are, say within a day, the more likely the launch is to happen as advertised. This is because there are many many things that need to happen leading up to a launch. The rockets themselves need to arrive at their launch site, then the payload needs to arrive as well. Then the payload is connected to the rocket, and everything needs to be checked out several times before they actually give the go for launch. If at any point leading up to this, something goes wrong, the date will slip.
My preferred way to know how to stay tuned to launch dates is by having a few select apps on my phone. If you’re specifically trying to be tuned in to SpaceX launches there is no better app than the SpaceX now app. They will notify you of any changes, any news updates from Reddit, or any official tweets from Elon or SpaceX.
My next favorite app for launches on the Space Coast is the We Are Go Vacationauts app. This app is super fun if you’re out vacationing and trying to catch a launch. They have a great up to date launch calendar, missions with badges, quizzes, polls and check-ins. It’s a fun way to get the most out of your vacation while being plugged into launches. This app is only specific to Florida launches though, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you want.
And one more good app for launch dates and times is the launch alarm app. It will also notify you of any changes and has all upcoming launches, including launches not only from other US sites, but also launches from all other countries as well!
Lastly, if you’re not an app person, I highly recommend checking out www.Spaceflightnow.com for their fantastic “launch schedule” section as well.
So I think that’s my first tip: Stay as plugged into the launch date and time leading up to the launch as humanly possible.
Then there’s launch day. If you’ve tuned in to previous launches, you know sometimes you get RIGHT UP to T-0 and the rocket stays on the pad. Again, there’s just so many variables, including weather, boats or airplanes wandering into the rocket’s path (despite massive fines), and any mechanical issues that might pop up last minute as they load the rocket with fuel and prepare for launch.
Moral of the story. You’re not going to see a rocket launch. You’re going to TRY to see a rocket launch. I know this might sound harsh, but it is just simply the reality of it. Rockets aren’t like trains, boats or airplanes with an easy schedule. It’s best to not hold your breath until you see the rocket leave the launch pad.
So I guess that’s my second tip: Plan on a scrub (or delay), and only be extra surprised if there isn’t one. Hopefully, for my sake, your sake, the ground support crews sake, and anyone else involved’s sake, the delay is only a single day and not some major setback of days or weeks.
Ok, so now you know when a rocket is going to launch… so now where oh where should you go to see a rocket launch from? If you’re at home, and your home isn’t in Florida, then you can tune into YouTube for the easiest launch experience. Subscribe to SpaceX, ULA, NASA, Orbital ATK, Rocket Lab, ESA, Blue Origin or any other of your favorite launch providers or agencies if you want to be notified when they will go live.
But, perhaps even more fun, you can join me during my live streams when I cover launches. I’m available at around T-minus 30 minutes for most launches to answer your questions live! So make sure you’re subscribed here so you know when that will occur. When I attend a launch in person, I will be live streaming from Kennedy Space Center’s press site as well, so you’ll get an excellent live view from only 3 miles away!
It’s as easy as that for online. But if you’re trying to see it in person, we need to do a quick summary of the different launch sites and the landing pads.
SpaceX will be launching Falcon Heavy from Historic Launch Pad 39A in Kennedy Space Center. Nearby to that is NASA’s 39B where SLS will eventually launch from. Then down south we have in order from North to South, SLC – 41 where ULA launches their Atlas V rocket, SLC – 40 where SpaceX launches their Falcon 9 rocket, SLC 37 where ULA launches Delta IV and Delta IV heavy and of course Landing Zone 1 or LZ-1 and LZ-2 which is right next to it. That’s right, landing zones because this is where SpaceX lands their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters.
There are several places to view launches from, some closer than others, but closer might not always be better due to obstructed views.
Here’s a rundown on the most common public places. For most launches, if you’re early enough, you can buy tickets directly from Kennedy Space Center’s Visitors Complex which can offer you the best views from inside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center! The options vary depending on different launches. There are three different options that might be available that actually get you inside the gates of the space center and beyond the visitors center.
First off there’s the Saturn V center which is easily one of the best views the general public can get, especially for pad 39a and 39b.
Day 135/365: Liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Inmarsat-5 F4 satellite from Kennedy Space Center’s LC-39A! Headed to Geostationary Transfer Orbit, the $250 million Inmarsat-5 F4 is a Boeing-built commercial communications satellite operated by Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company. The satellite’s large mass required Falcon 9 to fly in its expendable mode; no landing was attempted for this flight. Thanks to the cool folks at @kennedyspacecenter for having me at the Apollo/Saturn V Center for this launch.
At just 3.9 miles or 6 km away from 39a, this is easily one of the best views in the house for SpaceX launches from 39A. For the inaugural launch of Falcon Heavy, this is the only publicly available option from inside the space center and unfortunately, it’s already sold out.
Then there’s the gantry. This place is super close to SLC 41 for Atlas V launches.
At only 2.3 miles or 3.7 km away, this site can be quite the experience. It’s not always an option though.
And lastly the causeway. The causeway offers a good view of all the launch pads, ranging from 8 miles or around 13 km away from 39B and just under 3 miles or 4.5 km away from SLC 37!
This is the closest you can get to the landing pad at just 4 miles or 6.4 km away!
Otherwise, for most launches, you can watch from the visitors center, which although it doesn’t offer a direct line of sight to the launch pads due to trees being in the way, they do have bleachers, jumbotrons, guest speakers, and of course, excellent amenities.
You’ll get a great view once the rocket leaves the pad at around 7 miles or 11 km away from most launch pads. Then you can purchase tickets by visiting www.kennedyspacecenter.com and click on tickets.
The next most common option, and possibly an even better option is Jetty Park in Port Canaveral. Although Jetty Park is 14 miles or 22.5 km away from 39A, and although you can’t see ignition due to a berm that blocks a direct line of site to the launch pad, at just 6 miles or 9.6 km away from the landing pad, Jetty Park is quite the experience.
It will be CROWDED, it’s one of the most popular spots to view from, it’s technically the closest and best view you can get to the landing pad, this does not apply for launches that aren’t landing back at land, or for dare I say it, an expendable launch vehicle like non-SpaceX rockets. They have bathrooms, and a restaurant as well. It will cost around $15 per car and will fill up quickly. So get there plenty early.
The next most common public view is from State Road 401, at the southern entrance to Cape Canaveral Air Force station. This is perhaps one of your best views of the launch pad itself if seeing the rocket at ignition is important to you. At just 13 miles or 21 km, you’re looking directly over the Banana river straight to Pad 39A and have pretty great views of the other launch sites as well. It’s also a pretty good place to see the landings.
The only issue with this vantage point is there can be a very large building that partially obscures the view of the landings, but at 6 miles or 9.6 km’s away, you’re pretty darn close. Again, plan on this area being really really busy.
Next, we have another option that’s great for launches out of pad 39A, like Falcon Heavy. It’s the Max Brewer Bridge. It offers an elevated view that’s pretty darn close too.
At 11 miles or 18 km, you get a really good view of the takeoff. But you’re about as far away from landings as possible. At 17.5 miles or 28 km away, you won’t get nearly as much out of the landing experience.
Next up, we have the closest the general public can get to launches, but this place isn’t always an option and boy does it have some drawbacks. Playalinda beach is only 3.5 miles or 5.7 km from Pad 39A, which means it most likely will not be open for Falcon Heavy.
But it is an excellent choice for other launches. It is however very far away from the landing site again, at 12.5 miles or 20 km’s away. But remember, most rockets don’t land back at land, most land at sea or don’t land at all, so perhaps this excellent view of the pads is well worth it. Another bad thing is its remote with little to no cell phone service. It also has very limited bathrooms and zero amenities otherwise.
Visit this website, or call this phone number (321) 267-1110 if you’d like to see if Playalinda is open for the launch you’re trying to attend.
Next up we have Exploration Tower which isn’t always open for launches, but if you have the opportunity, definitely check it out.
They’re open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and sometimes as late as 7:00 pm It offers an excellent view of all launch pads and the landing zone. It’s cheap too, only $15 on launch days for adults! However, it’s not always available to the public on launch days as occasionally SpaceX uses it as a press site.
There are also many parks and other places along highway 1 which runs along the Indian River. I don’t want to go into all of these, but they often times do offer decent views and you may be close enough to different amenities that you can easily park and walk to grab food or find a restroom.
And lastly, if you’re pretty much anywhere along the beach from Cape Canaveral down to Cocoa Beach, you will for sure be able to see it. Just not as well as other places. But I’ll bet it’s pretty hard to beat swimming in the ocean while watching a rocket launch over you. Or maybe hanging out on Cocoa Beach Pier for the entertainment and restaurants overlooking a launch.
So if this is all overwhelming, may I suggest checking out launchrats.com. LaunchRats has plotted out many different places to view launches. If you want a great resource to be able to quickly look at and plot your next move, I highly suggest it.
Another great website is professional launch photographer Ben Cooper’s Rocket Launch viewing guide for Cape Canaveral on his website launchphotography.com.
WOW. So, Tip number 3: Know where you’re going! AND GET THERE EARLY!!!
SpaceX launches draw some pretty big crowds these days, and Falcon Heavy will certainly be one of the biggest launches since NASA’s EFT-1 Orion mission or maybe even getting close to the number of people who came down to watch the last Space Shuttle launch STS-135 in 2011.
I asked people on twitter to give me their best tips for viewing a launch. Here are a few of my favorites: My friends the Nagel’s said “We pack the minivan with bicycles, chairs, cooler, binoculars, and lots of water. We arrive at the coast very early, set up camp and then bike to breakfast, lunch etc. Early arrival is key and not be in a hurry to leave after. The social aspect is half the fun.”
Carolyn Hutchins also recommends getting their early to stake your spot out first. Bring a picnic lunch too!
Trip Harris recommends “If you’ve never seen a launch, leave your camera at home and instead just watch it with your own eyes. There will be plenty of great photos available from guys like @johnkrausphotos anyways. :)”
This “leave your camera at home” mantra was echoed over and over again.
Julia expanded the importance of living in the moment by saying “Enjoy the experience. What did you see, hear, feel? A picture is just a moment but a launch is so much more. The person standing next to you? Say hello- you may find they worked on the Shuttle or Apollo program. Launches are a shared experience. Enjoy!”
And that last part I especially love. MEET PEOPLE! You’re all there for the same thing! To witness the magic of spaceflight! Watching a rocket break Earth’s gravity and propel itself towards the heavens. Inspire each other and share the moment together.
As a professional photographer, I agree. Sure, snap one picture with your phone or put a camera on a tripod and click it once. BUT don’t worry about your grainy cell phone picture and instead, take in the experience.
Pat o. Says “Be prepared for a spectrum of emotions! The pre-launch hype, the chance for a disappointing scrub, the intensity when it actually launches, and the sadness when it’s over!”
Fellow space journalist, Robin Seemangal says “Mosquito repellent. Lots and lots of mosquito repellent. And snacks”
Holly recommends downloading a scanner app to listen to “Kennedy Space Center Communications” to get an accurate listen to the countdown and some of the launch prep.
Cathy has a friendly reminder about trash “PLEASE pick up your trash! KSC is in the middle of a federally protected wildlife area and people need to respect that.”
And lastly, my favorite YouTube space show, TMRO, has the ultimate advice – “Don’t stand next to the rocket at liftoff.” Thanks guys
So Tip number 4 is this: Get there, early, bring food, water, maybe a bike or two, some comfy chairs, sunscreen, patience pants and perhaps, leave your camera at home!
I hope all of this information helps you be as prepared as humanly possible for the launch!
Am I forgetting anything important? If so, leave that in the comments below. Have you been to a launch before? If so, what was your first launch?
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Thanks, everybody that does it for me. I’m Tim Dodd, the Everyday Astronaut. Bringing space down to Earth for everyday people.