Wallops Island, Va. – NASA launched a Black Brant IX sounding rocket from Wallops Island shortly after 5am this morning.
The launch tested a new sub-payload deployment method for suborbital rocket missions using small motors like those in model rockets to eject the sub-payloads from the main payload, according to a release from NASA Wallops. NASA officials say at least one of the four test payloads successfully deployed and left a bright trail of vapor in the sky.
During the demonstration two sub-payloads with mixtures of mainly barium and small amounts of the natural earth metals lithium and strontium were to be deployed. Two additional sub-payloads with only lithium were also to deploy from the sounding rocket.
The rapid burning of the metals was to cause them to vaporize and form clouds or trails that are used as tracers to help measure the wind in the transition region between the Earth’s atmosphere and space.
The vapor releases were set to occur at approximately 9 to 10 minutes after liftoff between 124 and 217 miles above the Earth.
The byproducts from burning these metals do not pose a risk to health or the environment. The amount of barium, strontium and lithium used in the test is much smaller than that used in a typical municipal 4th of July fireworks display.
Barium generally produces a blue-green cloud while strontium and lithium produce blues and reds.
The payload was expected to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean about 208 miles from Wallops Island and will not be recovered.