SpaceX facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base.
Inside the SpaceX facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base, a technician assists as a crane lowers the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite onto the payload adapter. SWOT is scheduled to lift off aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg at 3:46 a.m. Thursday. Credit: Steven Gerl / U.S. Space Force photo

A Falcon rocket launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base for a NASA mission to deliver a satellite to study Earth’s water may provide an early morning wakeup call for Central Coast residents with its liftoff and return Thursday.

The Space Exploration Technologies rocket’s departure will aim for 3:46 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-4 on the South Base. 

In addition to hearing the rocket’s departure, Central Coast residents may hear sonic booms created by the first-stage booster’s return to land at Vandenberg.

The rocket will carry the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite, which last week was stowed in the rocket’s payload fairing, or nose cone, in preparations for the trip to space. 

Mission managers were expected to provide an update on the launch readiness Wednesday morning. 

Last week, SpaceX announced the completion of a static fire test for the rocket involving counting down to zero, igniting engines and remaining in place. 

SWOT will provide the first global survey of water running through rivers and lakes along with water in the planet’s oceans, according to Katherine Calvin, NASA’s chief scientist and senior climate advisor.

“It will help us understand where water is, where it’s coming from and where it’s going,” Calvin said. “For oceans, it’s going to allow us to observe ocean features with higher resolution. Oceans absorb a lot of carbon and heat, and this will give us a better understanding of those processes and help us improve both our understanding of the oceans as well our projections into the future.”

SWOT actually involves an international collaboration. In addition to NASA, others involved are the French space agency known as Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency and the United Kingdom Space Agency.

The spacecraft weight at launch will be approximately 4,850 pounds.

Approximately eight minutes after lifting off, the Falcon rocket’s first-stage booster will return to Vandenberg, landing near its launch pad after completing its tasks for this mission.

That return likely will generate sonic booms heard in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties as the vehicle breaks the sound barrier en route back to Vandenberg.

Sonic booms stem from the shock waves created by an aircraft or launch vehicle traveling faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms have been likened to an explosion or a clap of thunder, but sound at various locations can depend on weather conditions and other factors.

Vandenberg has restricted access, but several locations around the Lompoc Valley provide views of the launch and landing sites, which are south of West Ocean Avenue (Highway 246).

These locations include west of Lompoc, the peak of Harris Grade Road and near the intersection of Mooglow and Stardust roads. Providence Landing Park, at 699 Mercury Ave., also is a popular gathering spot.

A live broadcast of the mission can be found on NASA-TV, the agency’s YouTube page or on the SpaceX website.

A stylized hawk's head on a red background

Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at