Here’s What a Rocket Launch Looks Like from Space

The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in 2016.
The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in 2016. / NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

There are approximately 7.5 billion humans on the planet. Of those, fewer than 550 have had the opportunity to look down on Earth from space. Fewer still have had the opportunity to glimpse a rocket launch from above. But now we all can, thanks to new satellite footage of a Soyuz rocket taking flight.

The folks at Planet Labs have a lofty goal: to take new pictures of the Earth from space every day. To do this, the company stows its miniature Dove satellites aboard sky-bound missions in the U.S., India, and Asia. The rockets go up and the satellites detach, hanging in the black and snapping pictures like paparazzi lurking in the dark outside a pop star's mansion.

Like celebrity photographers, the little satellites depend on both strategy and luck to get great images. Recently, one Dove was in the right place at just the right time: above Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, right when a new Soyuz rocket was zooming into the air.

Planet scientists realized the impending photo opportunity just five hours before the launch was to occur. With some speedy calculations, they were able to aim the Dove's orbiting cameras at the launch, then compress the footage into the exhilarating 11-second time lapse here.

The footage of a rocket launch shot by satellites launched aboard rockets is even more self-reflexive than it sounds; the rocket in the video above is actually carrying more imaging satellites.

Team members were thrilled with the images. "The results are pretty cool," Planet's Vincent Beukelaers wrote on the company blog. "We've captured some spectacular imagery over the last few years, but these launch shots of the Soyuz are some of my personal favorites."