SpaceX GPS launch delivers stunning sunrise views (photos)

Backdropped by the rising sun, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a GPS III rocket on behalf of the United States Space Force on Jan. 18, 2023.
Backdropped by the rising sun, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a GPS III rocket on behalf of the United States Space Force on Jan. 18, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

You want homefries with those launch photos?

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket livened up the breakfast hour on Wednesday (Jan. 18) with the flawless launch of an advanced GPS satellite to orbit. 

Elon Musk's company recently released photos (opens in new tab) of the 7:24 a.m. EST (1224 GMT) liftoff, and they're stunning, showing the workhorse rocket climbing to orbit with the rising sun just behind the Atlantic Ocean-facing pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. 

Mere minutes after the epic shots were taken, the refurbished Falcon 9 first-stage booster aced its landing on a drone ship at sea as the GPS III satellite soared to its transfer orbit for the U.S. Space Force.

Related: 8 ways SpaceX has transformed spaceflight forever

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a GPS III rocket on behalf of the United States Space Force on Jan. 18, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

A long-range view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching a GPS III rocket on behalf of the United States Space Force on Jan. 18, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a GPS III rocket on behalf of the United States Space Force on Jan. 18, 2023. (Image credit: SpaceX)

As you can see in the full-length launch video below, the Falcon 9 first stage separated as planned from the upper stage at 2 minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canveral.

Then, less than nine minutes after launch, the booster flew back to Earth for a soft touchdown on the SpaceX drone ship "A Shortfall of Gravitas," enabling the rocket to be recycled for future missions.

The early-morning launch was visible across the Space Coast of Florida and attracted views from several photographers based in the area. Some captured it using remote cameras at the pad, while others stationed themselves at viewing areas surrounding the launch site to photograph the sunrise launch.

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The launch was SpaceX's fourth of 2023. Just a day later, the company went to space again from the opposite coast of the United States.

SpaceX sent 51 of its Starlink internet satellites to orbit on Thursday (Jan. 19) at 10:43 a.m. EST on another Falcon 9 rocket, this one rising from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base. The first stage nailed the landing on this booster's debut flight, on SpaceX's other drone ship, "Of Course I Still Love You."

 Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace