It’s doubtful that any of us will personally see a rocket launch from a few hundred yards away, but fortunately virtual reality can provide the next best view. A new 360-degree video debuting this week at the 32nd Space Symposium — an annual conference for space industry leaders — transports viewers to an actual nighttime ULA rocket launch, right as the vehicle shoots into the sky. The footage of the event, made with help from Koncept VR, is so close to take off that any person standing in the same spot would be blasted with piping hot steam and debris from the combusting main engine.
This particular launch lofted a US spy satellite into orbit
The rocket in the video is a Delta IV — one of the two primary vehicles manufactured by the United Launch Alliance. This particular launch was the NROL-45 mission, a secretive operation for the National Reconnaissance Office that lofted a US spy satellite into orbit on February 10th. The Delta IV took off in the early hours of the morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but now anyone can watch it unfold up close.
The video opens with a daytime shot of the 22-story Delta IV, ensconced in its mobile service tower at Vandenberg's Space Complex 6. Just prior to take off, the giant service tower is rolled away, revealing the rocket on its launch pad underneath. Then, the mission control operator counts down and the Delta IV blasts upward in mere seconds. As this happens, people get to watch from three different viewpoints near the launch pad. The video's narrator claims that no human has ever seen a rocket launch from these vantage points before. That's probably for the best.
The footage can be viewed in 360 degrees on a phone or a tablet — with a VR headset or without. It may be the closest someone will ever get to being right next to a rocket launch, without experiencing the deadly heat.
Correction: A previous version of this article said the Space Symposium VR experience would have directional audio, based on inaccurate information provided by ULA. There won't be directional audio, and the article has been updated.