US Air Force confirms Rocket Source of Flare over Atlantic Provinces
By Carla Allen/The Vanguard
It wasn’t a UFO. It wasn’t a meteorite. The source of a prolonged flare in the evening sky off the Atlantic coast on Monday, Dec. 10, was due to the separation of disposable components from a Cape Canaveral launched rocket.
Ken Warren, a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing at Patrick AFB in Florida, says the Atlas V booster left the launch pad with a National Reconnaissance Office national security payload at 5:05 p.m. Eastern Time.
Hurtling through the atmosphere at a speed of 15,040 feet per second or 8,911 knots, at a height of approximately 380,000 ft., the craft reached our area at 5:16 p.m. E.T. (6:16 p.m. Atlantic Daylight Time).
The first stage expendable fuel tank and the top portion of the rocket, which is known as the payload faring, separated and continued to rise to over 600,000 ft. before beginning its re-entry.
Warren says there are two possibilities for the widely seen flare.
“Our analysis shows that fireballs could have been produced by the jettisoned bodies. In this case no fuel is involved, just friction with the atmosphere. If the observations occurred fairly close to the launch time this could have been what was seen. The Centaur stage also completed a fuel depletion maneuver, which would have occurred much later. This occurs in orbit with no re-entering debris. This was also reported to have been seen,” he said.
The booster and payload faring dropped in the northern Atlantic Ocean in the vicinity of Sable Island--approximately 120 miles east of Nova Scotia as planned.
“Launch trajectories are chosen to reduce the risk to personnel along the flight path to the maximum extent possible,” said Warren.
Notices to airmen and mariners were issued in advance of the launch to ensure the safety of personnel that may have been in the vicinity of potential impact areas.
Many fishermen contacted the Canadian Coast Guard reporting the flash, concerned that it might be an emergency flare from a mariner in distress.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax received close to a dozen reports of “the light in the sky” from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI.
This marks the fourth successful Atlas V launched from Cape Canaveral AFS this year. On Dec. 20 another Eastern Range launch will take place - a Delta ll rocket carrying a NAVSTAR Global Positioning System satellite.
Launches on similar flight azimuths to the Dec. 10 launch are not uncommon but occur infrequently.
Warren says there are no plans to recover the jettisoned components.
“At this time there is no plan to retrieve the debris; the United States government does not routinely retrieve first stage components," he said.
The common core booster is 12.5 ft in diameter, 106.6 ft. long and weighs approximately 50,000 pounds.