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Posted at 03:39 PM ET, 03/14/2012

NASA to launch 5 rockets in 5 minutes from Wallops, Va. tonight (maybe)


Five sounder rockets will be launched within five minutes of each other early on March 15 (NASA, adapted by CWG)

UPDATE 4:10 p.m., Monday, 3/26: After yet another scrubbed attempt Friday, NASA is going to try again tonight between 2 and 5 a.m. Tuesday morning (3/27). Status updates from NASA.

UPDATE, 5:00 p.m., Thursday, 3/22: After scrubbing attempts the last two nights, NASA will try again tonight.

UPDATE, 6:15 p.m., Tuesday, 3/20: NASA has scheduled the launch tonight for between midnight and 3 a.m. (Wednesday morning), but says there is just a 10% chance of acceptable weather. In other words, it will probably get rescheduled, again.

UPDATE, 6:00 p.m. Friday, 3/16:NASA now says the launch will occur no earlier than the night of Sunday, March 18.

UPDATE, 6:15 p.m. (3/14): NASA has scrubbed the rocket launch for tonight “because of an internal radio frequency interference issue with one of the rockets”. The next launch attempt will occur no earlier than Friday night, March 16.

From earlier (3/14): Between midnight and 1:30 a.m. tonight (March 15), 5 NASA rockets will soar into the atmosphere to obtain information about rip roaring winds 60-65 miles high in the atmosphere. Assuming clear skies, NASA says the 5 rockets will be launched in just over 5 minutes from Wallops Island, Va.

Links: NASA launch webcast | Launch updates on Facebook and Twitter

These small, powerful “sounding rockets” will ascend to altitudes of 50 to 90 miles high. Night sky watchers from South Carolina to Pittsburgh to New England will be able to see a glowing trail of milky, white clouds for up to 20 minutes after the launch. These contrails, known as tracers, are being intentionally emitted so NASA can study how they move in the wind.

The mission sets out “to study these high altitude winds and their intimate connection to the complicated electrical current patterns that surround Earth” NASA says.

Link: Space.com slideshow

These super fast winds, not to be confused with the jet stream that transports weather systems much lower in the atmosphere (at altitudes around 30,000 feet), reach speeds of 200-300 miles per hour. They’re in a region of the ionosphere with high levels of electrical turbulence that can interfere with satellite and radio communications.

“This area shows winds much larger than expected,” says Miguel Larsen, principal investigator for this Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX). “We don’t yet know what we’re going to see, but there is definitely something unusual going on. ATREX will help us understand the big question about what is driving these fast winds.”

Video overview of ATREX mission from NASA

Link: NASA ATREX website

NASA hopes the experiment will help scientists better model this area, where damage to satellites and communication systems can occur from the turbulent winds.

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By  |  03:39 PM ET, 03/14/2012

Categories:  Latest, Space, Science

 
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