NASA Sounding Rockets Support Studies in the Ionosphere During 2013 Kwajalein Launch Campaign
NASA sounding rockets are taking science to the Earth’s ionosphere to study radio frequency propagation as well as space weather and its impact on communication and navigation systems, during the 2013 Kwajalein launch campaign.
Four suborbital sounding rocket launches are scheduled to launch from Roi-Namur, Republic of the Marshall Islands, between April 26 and May 12: two supporting the Equatorial Vortex EXperiment, or EVEX, and two supporting the Metal Oxide Space Cloud experiment, or MOSC.
At launch, the sounding rockets will carry the EVEX and MOSC instruments into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. About 20 minutes later, the rockets will safely splash down in the open ocean.
EVEX will study space weather in the ionosphere, specifically the circulation of ionized gas, the intensity of which is believed related to post-sunset ionospheric storms that can impact satellite communication and navigation systems and signals. As part of the mission, during the rocket flights red and white vapor clouds will form to allow the scientists to observe the winds in the upper atmosphere.
MOSC will release a Samarium vapor creating a red cloud of charged particles in the ionosphere. Researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory will study the cloud as it disperses and its impact on radio transmissions sent from multiple locations. MOSC is being launched with the assistance of the Department of Defense Space Test Program.
For both missions, the clouds that are formed might be seen in the atolls closest to Kwajalein. The particles that form these clouds pose no threat to the public when released in the upper atmosphere.
The Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands is near the magnetic equator, where post-sunset ionospheric storms are more intense, making the site an ideal location for these studies. The ionosphere, characterized by ionization from solar radiation, is an atmospheric layer ranging from about 50 to 375 miles (85 to 600 km) above the Earth’s surface.
For EVEX, a Terrier-Oriole and a Terrier-Malemute sounding rocket will be flown. Two Terrier-Improved Orion rockets will be used to support the MOSC experiment.
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia manages the agency’s sounding rocket program.
For more information on NASA’s sounding rockets, see: www.nasa.gov/soundingrockets