With the launch of the Iridium 4 last night the social media was taken over by an image of the spacecraft leaving a trail of smoke! The mission contains a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket which was lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in northern Santa Barbara County last evening (Friday 22nd). This is the third launch of this Falcon 9. It carried 10 communications satellites for the commercial “Iridium Next” constellation in the lower orbits of the earth. The constellation is a second-generation constellation for a global communications system.
Vandenberg Air Force Base is about 150 miles north of Los Angeles and therefore, smoke cloud left by the craft was vividly visible and was widely seen throughout Southern California and as far away as Phoenix, Arizona. Since the launch took place with the sun setting over the the Pacific it created this shining, billowing streak and we dared calling it Elons Tail!!! So, there is the secret behind the incident last evening. If you want to see a high quality recording of the flight path, there is a video uploded on Danny Sullivan's twitter page.
On another note on the trail of smoke, Falcon 9 uses RP-1 Kerosene Fuel. We found in a discussion forum the following. “The mass of the RP-1 fuel of the first stage of Falcon 9 is 119,100 kg. That is around 100,000 kg of carbon, corresponding to 360,000 kg of carbon dioxide. However, only a little less than half the carbon is completely burnt in hydrocarbon based rocket propellants, the rest becoming carbon monoxide or monatomic carbon. The figure is then closer to 170,000 kg. The RP-1 fuel of the second stage is 27,850 kg, adding another 40,000 kg of carbon dioxide”. This gives an idea of what was witnessed and how it was visible that way.