Today, my friend John Kraus and I went up to Titusville, Florida and staked out a spot where we thought we might be able to catch a United States Air Force C-17A Globemaster III landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility, delivering NASA’s ‘Mars 2020’ rover for processing ahead of launch to the Red Planet from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 41 later this year.
We lucked out with clear skies and were both able to capture it! Here’s a little bit more about how we were able to pull it off!
First, we saw a tweet from Brendan Byrne (H/t Emilee Speck) that the rover would be arriving the next day and went looking for a flight tracker.
Here's some #Mars news: #Mars2020 will arrive at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow at 3:10 p.m. ET, landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility. Heading to PHSF before launching to Mars in July.
(H/T @EMSpeck) pic.twitter.com/WEgqwocciA
— Brendan Byrne (@SpaceBrendan) February 11, 2020
Looking on FlightAware, I couldn’t find anything initially but after a bit of digging and help from a few colleagues who are much better at plane tracking/spotting than we are, we found one on RadarBox24.
Using that, we estimated that it would be landing a bit earlier than the planned 3:10pm arrival. (Luckily we left early, because it ended up landing at ~2:55pm!)
Checking the winds, they were out of the SSE at 10-15 miles per hour, so I had a hunch it would land to the south, into the wind. (I knew having my private pilot’s license would come in handy somewhere down the line)
On location, I saw that it had turned south and was approaching the Cape straight from the west, when I had thought it would come from straight north of the Cape and shoot a long final approach into the SLF.
Right after that, it made an additional turn to the south and I thought, “Hmm that’s odd. I wouldn’t really land with a tailwind given the $2.5B mars rover I am carrying…”
But not to worry, we were patient, gave it a little bit of time and it turned back to the north!!
From Titusville, it was directly to our west at this point.
We spotted it, lost it for a second and watched it on short final as it descended toward NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility! Day well spent!
The video (and our ensuing excitement) takes it from there!