SpaceX Orbcomm

The SCIFLI team was contracted to observe the Orbcomm mission because of the inability to launch the aircraft during the CRS-3 mission.  At the time, the Cast Glance P3 aircraft was unavailable to support the mission, so the SCIFLI team turned to the NASA WB-57.  This mission would become the first time SCIFLI would work together with the WB-57 Program Office.  It was also the first time the WB-57 would attempt to visually acquire a launch vehicle once it was airborne and maintain tracking through reentry.

NASA's WB-57 aircraft flying in formation over Houston and JSC.
NASA’s WB-57 aircraft flying in formation over Houston and JSC.
Photo Date: November 19, 2015. Photographer: Jim Wiehoff

After several delays, the mission launched on July 14, 2014.  The WB-57 aircraft was able to image the initial ascent of the booster.  However, the sensor operator on the WB-57 lost track of the first stage while switching to a narrow field of view and was not able to reacquire it.  The sensor operator was able to track the second stage, but the desired data was largely not acquired.  The team identified the tracking issues and put measures in place to better chances of future success.