ASSATEAGUE – A planned rocket launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility just south of Assateague Island had to be scrubbed on Tuesday evening because of low cloud cover, setting up a launch date for this evening that could be visible throughout the mid-Atlantic region including coastal Worcester County.
Wallops officials planned to launch NASA’s four-stage Black Brant XII sub-orbital sounding rocket between roughly 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but low-lying clouds caused the mission to be scrubbed and rescheduled during the same timing window three days later. The launch is now set for tonight, weather permitting, in roughly the same time frame as the mission that was aborted on Tuesday evening and could be visible throughout the region.
The mission protocol was set in motion on Tuesday evening with an aerial search of the waters around NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility just south of Assateague conducted and the countdown initiated. However, scattered low-lying clouds in the local area and throughout the research areas along the mid-Atlantic coast forced the launch to be scrubbed on Tuesday, setting up the launch planned for tonight.
Tuesday’s cancellation is ironic because the rocket’s primary mission is to create a large, artificial cloud to allow researchers to gain insight into the highest clouds in the earth’s atmosphere. The mission, called the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE) will be conducted by the Naval Research Laboratory and the Department of Defense Space Test Program using the Black Brant XII sounding rocket launched from Wallops as soon as this evening.
A vast artificial noctilucent cloud will be formed by exhaust particles from the rocket’s fourth and final stage at an altitude of around 170 miles. Data collected during the experiment will provide insight into the formation, evolution and properties of noctilucent clouds, which are typically observed naturally at high altitudes. Natural noctilucent clouds are often found in the upper atmosphere as spectacular displays most easily seen just after sunset.
The CARE experiment launched from Wallops this evening will be the first space viewing of an artificial noctilucent cloud. Ground-based cameras and radar equipment will be based at various observation stations along the Atlantic coast. Because of the optical observations, the launch requires clear skies not only at Wallops but also at the multiple viewing stations along the coast.
According to Wallops officials, if all goes according to plan, the launch scheduled for tonight and the resulting artificial cloud should be seen throughout the region.