Friday, March 30, 2012

ATREX Mission Successfully Launched

NASA successfully launched five suborbital sounding rockets this morning from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. The first rocket was launched at 4:58 a.m. EDT and each subsequent rocket was launched 80 seconds apart.

Launch of a sounding rocket Wallops Island, Virginia early in the morning of March 27. Credit: NASA/Wallops

Each rocket released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space. Tracking the way the clouds move can help scientists understand the movement of the winds some 65 miles up in the sky, which in turn will help create better models of the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communications systems.

Wispy luminous clouds light up the night sky over Wallops Island, Virginia early in the morning of March 27. Credit: NASA/Wallops

The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) is a Heliophysics sounding rocket mission that will gather information needed to better understand the process responsible for the high-altitude jet stream located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of the Earth.

The high-altitude jet stream is higher than the one commonly reported in weather forecasts. The winds found in this upper jet stream typically have speeds of 200 to well over 300 mph and create rapid transport from the Earth's mid latitudes to the polar regions. This jet stream is located in the same region where strong electrical currents occur in the ionosphere. It is therefore a region with a lot of electrical turbulence, of the type that can adversely affect satellite and radio communications.

The sounding rockets used for the mission were two Terrier-Improved Malemutes , two Terrier-Improved Orions and one Terrier-Oriole.

The five rockets released a chemical tracer that formed milky, white tracer clouds, allowing scientists and the public to "see" the winds in space. In addition, two of the rockets carried instrumented payloads to measure the pressure and temperature in the atmosphere at the height of the high-speed winds.

Here is an edited video of the launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia:

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