ASSATEAGUE – A planned launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility just south of Assateague, scrubbed last Tuesday because of poor weather conditions in the area, went off as planned last Saturday with the rocket arching its way across the evening sky around dusk in an event 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 last Tuesday, but low-lying clouds caused the mission to be scrubbed until at least last Friday. When conditions were less than ideal on Friday, the launch window was moved to Saturday evening between roughly 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wallops officials finally got the perfect weather conditions they were looking for on Saturday and the rocket was launched without a hitch.
The mission protocol was set in motion early Saturday afternoon with an aerial search of the waters around Wallops just south of Assateague to ensure no vessels were in the launch area. Around 4:30 p.m., the shelter surrounding the rocket was removed and an hour later, about 5:30 p.m., the Black Brant XII rocket was raised into position. At about 7 p.m., several smaller test rockets were launched to ensure the radar tracking equipment was operating properly, and the roughly 55-foot tall Black Brant XII went up as planned at exactly 7:46 p.m.
The rocket’s primary mission, called the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment (CARE), was to create a large, artificial cloud to allow researchers to gain a better insight into the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere. The vast artificial noctilucent cloud was formed by exhaust particles from the rocket’s fourth and final stage at an altitude of about 170 miles. The noctilucent cloud produced by the launch created a spectacle nearly as great as the rocket itself and prompted more than a few calls to authorities throughout the northeast about strange lights in the sky, according to a NASA release on the launch.