WALLOPS — Residents and visitors could see a rare spectacle across the sky late tonight and early tomorrow morning as NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility plans to launch five suborbital rockets within a span of five minutes as part of a jet stream wind study.
With a little cooperation from the weather and a resolution of some minor technical issues, Wallops officials are expected to launch five suborbital rockets within a span of about five minutes late tonight or early tomorrow morning. NASA’s facility in Virginia originally planned the unique launch for late Thursday night or early Friday morning, but the mission was scrubbed after an internal radio frequency interference issue was discovered with one of the rockets.
Wallops officials corrected the issue and rescheduled the launch for tonight or early tomorrow morning with a launch window of 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. If all goes according to plan, the five rockets will launch within a span of about five minutes and each will release a chemical tracer that will form milky, white clouds that will allow scientists and the public to actually see high speed, high altitude winds in space.
According to NASA officials, the five-rocket launch and the subsequent release of the chemical tracers should be clearly visible throughout the region and as far south as South Carolina and as far north as New Hampshire and Vermont for a period as long as 20 minutes. The intent of the mission, called the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment, or ATREX, is to gain a better understanding of the high speed winds.
About 60 to 65 miles above the earth’s surface, winds rush through a little understood area of the earth’s atmosphere at speeds of 200 to 300 mph. The winds blow through an area of the atmosphere lower than a typical satellite, but higher than most planes fly.
Scientists have known about the high speed winds in the upper jet stream for decades but have little understanding about their impact on the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communication systems.
“This area shows winds much larger than expected,” said Miguel Larsen, a Clemson University space scientist taking the lead on the experiment. “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.”