On May 22, 2012, the Dragon C2+ spacecraft (also known as COTS Demo Flight 2) was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40. The Dragon was the first commercial cargo craft to perform a docking to the ISS. The spacecraft lifted up atop the two stage Falcon 9 rocket. A few days after the launch, I acquired a window of visibility of the ISS orbit, and as a consequence I acquired visibility of the Dragon capsule, upper stage and mission debris. I was not able to observe the flight of the Dragon to the ISS due to fact that I acquired visibility too late, but there were several favorable passes for the rocket and mission debris. I was able to observe one of the Falcon 9 fairings on May 29,  while it was clearly tumbling at a low rate, but this and the other fairing (cataloged as Debris C and Debris D) decayed on June 7 and 9 respectively, well before any imaging could be obtained.

Part of the original raw video

The most interesting item of the Dragon C2 launch system, however, was the Falcon 9 upper stage with its big Merlin engine (type 1C). Several favorable passes over the observing location resulted in very useful observations and one of them in nearly excellent conditions. The Merlin engine can be seen clearly. In contrast with what usually is the case with Soyuz rocket upper stages from launches of Soyuz capsules or Progress cargo ships, the Falcon 9 upper stage looked very stable. No visible sign of tumbling motion was observed during all passes. Another obvious difference is the orbital lifetime of the rocket. The Falcon upper stage stayed in orbit for more then a month while the Soyuz upper stages decay usually within three days after launch. This Falcon rocket second stage reentered finally on June 27, 2012.

These images were obtained with 10 inch aperture reflector by manually tracking.

NASA TV screenshots of the second stage Merlin engine seen from a camera on board the spacecraft during ascent

Another groundbased image of the 2nd stage obtained several days earlier on May 31 in less favorable conditions. The Merlin engine can still be seen

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