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NASA Sounding Rocket will Release Early Morning Artificial Clouds Lighting up the Mid-Atlantic Coast May 31

Press Release From: Wallops Flight Facility
Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017



The early morning skies along the mid-Atlantic coast will light up with luminescent clouds as NASA tests a new system that supports science studies of the ionosphere and aurora with a sounding rocket launch May 31 from the Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia. Backup launch days are June 1 through 6.

During the flight of a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket between 4:25 and 4:42 a.m. EDT, ten canisters about the size of a soft drink can will be deployed in the air, 6 to 12 miles away from the 670-pound main payload.

The canisters will deploy between 4 and 5.5 minutes after launch blue-green and red vapor forming artificial clouds. These clouds or vapor tracers allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.

The development of the multi-canister or ampule ejection system will allow scientists to gather information over a much larger area than previously allowed when deploying the vapor just from the main payload.

Ground cameras will be stationed at Wallops and in Duck, North Carolina, to view the vapor tracers. Clear skies are preferred, but not required, at both sites for the launch to occur.

The vapor tracers are formed through the interaction of barium, strontium and cupric-oxide. The tracers will be released at altitudes 96 to 124 miles high and pose absolutely no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast.

The vapor tracers could be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward to Charlottesville, Virginia.

The total flight time for the mission is expected to be about 8 minutes.  The payload will land in the Atlantic Ocean about 90 miles from Wallops Island and will not be recovered.

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open at 3:30 a.m. on launch day for viewing the flight.

Live coverage of the mission is scheduled to begin at 3:45 a.m. on the Wallops Ustream site. Launch updates also are available via the Wallops Facebook and Twitter sites.

Smartphone users can download the “What’s Up at Wallops” app, which contains information on the launch as well as a compass showing the precise direction for launch viewing.
 
More information on the NASA sounding rocket missions and the use of vapor tracers in science research is available at:
 
www.nasa.gov/soundingrockets

NASA's Sounding Rocket Program is conducted at the agency's Wallops Flight Facility, which is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Orbital ATK provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations through the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract. NASA's Heliophysics Division manages the sounding-rocket program for the agency.

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