Wow! NASA Photos Capture Dazzling Nighttime Rocket Launch

Atlas 5 Rocket Streaks and Lighthouse: TDRS-K Satellite
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket carrying NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-K, TDRS-K, streaks past the lighthouse on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after launching from Space Launch Complex 41 at 8:48 p.m. EST on Jan. 30, 2013, in this long-exposure view. (Image credit: NASA/Rick Wetherington)

When NASA's newest satellite soared into space late Wednesday (Jan. 30), a team of photographers captured dazzling views of the rocket streaking into orbit.

A series of long-exposure rocket launch photos released overnight by NASA show the unmanned Atlas 5 booster carrying the agency's new Tracking and Data Relay Satellite K (TDRS-K) as a bright arc of light climbing spaceward from a pad at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket lifted off at 8:48 p.m. EST (0148 Jan. 31 GMT), rising like an artificial sun as it flew into space.

One image, by launch photographer Tony Gray, shows the Atlas 5 rocket just seconds after liftoff as it appeared from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, which is near the Air Force Station launch site. NASA's cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building stands stoically in the foreground as the rocket hovers in mid-flight on the photo's right side.

Another view, captured by photographer Rick Wetherington, shows the Atlas 5 rocket as a blazing arc of light as it passes behind a lighthouse at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

A final image by photographer Glenn Benson shows the rocket streaking up into the night sky, its blindingly bright engine plume reflecting off the waters around the seaside launch pad.Another view, captured by photographer Rick Wetherington, shows the Atlas 5 rocket as a blazing arc of light as it passes behind a lighthouse at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The TDRS-K satellite is the first of three next-generation communications satellites to be launched in order to upgrade NASA's aging TDRS satellite constellation. The satellites serve as relays between NASA ground stations and the agency's Earth-observing satellites and other spacecraft currently orbiting the planet. TDRS-K is expected to spend at least 15 years in service once it begins operations, according to a NASA mission profile.

The first TDRS satellite was launched into space in 1983, with TDRS-K marking the 11th satellite to join the fleet. The launch provider United Launch Alliance oversaw Wednesday's Atlas 5 mission for NASA.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.