NASA to launch sounding rocket from Wallops Island early Saturday morning

Posted at 6:26 AM, Jun 26, 2014

Wallops Island, Va. – NASA will test several new suborbital rocket technologies with the launch of a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket between 4 and 5 a.m. Saturday morning from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.  The backup launch days are June 29 through July 2.

These technologies will include a deployment system for forming vapor clouds used to track the winds in space for studies of the ionosphere; a miniature deployment actuator for small spacecraft called cubesats; a low-cost attitude solution system; and improvements in telemetry and flight recorders to increase the rates for data collected and transferred during flight.

The sub-payload deployment method being tested on this flight uses small rocket motors like those used in model rockets to eject the sub-payloads from the main payload. During the test, two sub-payloads with mixtures of mainly barium will be deployed from the sounding rocket. In addition to the barium, the two sub-payloads contain small amounts of the natural earth metals lithium and strontium.

By combining the metals and burning them rapidly, the mixture will produce enough heat and vaporize the mixture to form clouds that will help to measure the wind in the transition region between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. The vapor releases occur at approximately 220 seconds after vehicle lift-off between 68 and 86 miles above the Earth.

The byproducts from burning these metals do not pose a risk to health or the environment given their release in space. The amount of barium, strontium and lithium used in the test is much smaller than that used in a typical municipal 4thof July fireworks display.  The colors in these displays are the result of rapidly burning small amounts of these earth metals.  For instance, barium generally produces a cloud with a mixture of blue-green while strontium and lithium produce blues and reds.

The clouds, which help researchers measure the velocity and direction of the wind in the space, may be seen by residents in the mid-Atlantic region.

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