SpaceX’s Rocket Engine Glows Hot Red While Travelling At 12,784 Km/h!

Ramish Zafar
The second stage's Merlin 1D vacuum engine's nozzle bell glows with the setting Sun visible in the background. This stage is also visible from the drone ship above. Image: SpaceX

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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) latest Falcon 9 launch for Intelsat's Galaxy 33 and Galaxy 34 satellites provided viewers with some breathtaking visuals. The launch came within days after SpaceX launched a crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and its latest batch of Starlink satellites. Due to its timing, the Intelsat launch allowed a view of the Falcon 9's payload to be visible from SpaceX's drone ship, and the rocket's second-stage engine in front of a setting sun - both of which mark a rare time for such visuals to be present in a Falcon 9 launch.

SpaceX Launch Provides Rare View Of Falcon 9 Second Stage Plume Visible From Drone Ship

The launch took place at 7:05 p.m. ET yesterday from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, with the Falcon 9 roaring to the skies with the two Intelsat satellites. These satellites will provide cable coverage to North American customers, and one of them is a replacement satellite while the other will serve as a backup. They will also help 5G operators in providing connectivity.

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Roughly three minutes after launch, the Falcon 9's first stage separated, and immediately afterward, a single shot of both the rocket and the second stage showed the first stage on the right and the second stage on the left. The last time we were able to see both in a single frame was in February as part of SpaceX's launch of the COSMO-SkyMed earth observation satellite for the Italian Space Agency.

This launch provided remarkable views of the rocket's first stage jettisoning the second stage, and the latter's fairing forming a perfect triangle with the rocket after they separated.


The first great view of the day came when the Falcon 9's first stage separated from the second stage and both were visible in the latter's exhaust plume. This plume becomes visible as the rocket enters the upper regions of the Earth's atmosphere, and as opposed to the first stage which is reused, SpaceX builds a new second stage for every mission.


Soon after the first and second stages separated, the latter's fairings also separated, for another rare view of all four objects in the same frame. The fairings protect the satellites from the atmosphere as the Falcon 9 gains speed to escape the Earth's gravity. After the rocket reaches a safe altitude, they separate from the second stage, and SpaceX recovers them with its vessels once they fall back to Earth.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage is visible on the top right from its drone ship for a "space jellyfish" as described by the launch presenter Shiva Bharadwaj. Image: SpaceX

However, the best view of the day (arguably) would come later as the live stream shifted to SpaceX's drone ship that the Falcon 9's first stage uses to land. This saw the plume of the second stage's engine (traveling at 12,784 kilometers per hour) reflecting the sunlight and provided a view that was best described by SpaceX's presenter Shiva Bharadwaj:

You can see we just launched at the perfect time here so we're catching sunlight off of the top of the Earth's atmosphere  [and] it's reflecting off of the plume of the rocket. I love to call this the space jellyfish with a space octupus. But at the altitude the rocket is at, the Sun hasn't quite set yet, so we're just seeing the plume of the sunlight reflecting. Fantastic.


Yet, if you think SpaceX was done for the day, you'd be wrong as just after the drone ship view, the second stage's Merlin 1D engine provided yet another breathtaking view. This time around, the Sun was setting off of the Florida coast, and the Merlin engine's nozzle glow provided it with the perfect foreground.

The first stage and the space jellyfish with the space octopus. Image: SpaceXnd.

To close things off, the Falcon 9 landed just in time to catch the jellyfish flying in the background. Today's mission marked the 14th time that SpaceX has reused this rocket booster, and it has previously supported ten Starlink missions, a GPS satellite, the Turkstat 5A and SpaceX's Transporter II mission.

For the complete coverage of the launch, head on to SpaceX's live stream recording:

For more amazing visuals from SpaceX's and other rocket launches, you can check out:

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