The fieryfrom the coast of Virginia late Friday should be visible across the eastern seaboard, officials say, from as far north as Maine to southeastern North Carolina, weather permitting.
The five-stage solid-fuel Minotaur 5 rocket carrying the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is scheduled for launch from Wallops Island, Va., at 11:27 p.m.
Unlike liquid-fueled rockets that burn brightly but don't trail an equally bright exhaust plume, the Minotaur 5 rocket is made up of five solid-fuel stages, the first three from a Peacekeeper ICBM and two commercially developed solid propellant motors.
Solid-fuel boosters typically generate a brilliant exhaust plume that should make spotting the rocket relatively easy as it gains altitude and climbs into view, arcing away to the East over the Atlantic Ocean.
"This vehicle is going to be launching at night, so it should be easily visible from a lot of locations on the East Coast," said Doug Voss, launch manager at NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility.
"All the way from the coast of South Carolina, up to the Maine area and as far west as Pittsburgh, you'll be able to see the vehicle depending on weather conditions."
Orbital Sciences Corp., builder of the Minotaur 5, posted sighting charts showing the rocket's trajectory from a variety of vantage points in the viewing area, including Washington DC, Richmond, Va., Annapolis, Md., New York City and Raleigh, N.C.
The trajectories in the color-coded charts show when each stage will be firing along with local landmarks to help orient the viewer.