Rescheduled Launch Takes Place At Wallops Island

BERLIN – Against the backdrop of a crystal clear, dark, cold night, a Black Brandt IX sounding rocket arched its way across the Lower Shore sky shortly after midnight on Tuesday, the latest successful launch from an increasingly busy NASA Wallops Island Flight facility.

The launching of the Black Brandt IX sounding rocket early Tuesday morning was originally scheduled for mid-September with a launch window from Sept. 11-23.

While it lacked the drama of the launch at Wallops of an NFIRE rocket last April and a Minotaur rocket last December, both of which could be seen throughout the mid-Atlantic region, Tuesday’s launch was spectacular nonetheless and was viewed by hundreds of NASA enthusiasts in and around Wallops.

“The preliminary indications suggest it was a very good flight,” said Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler. “We’re still waiting for some information from the scientists, but from a launch standpoint, it was very successful.”

The Black Brandt IX rocket launched on Tuesday morning carried a payload designed to study the ionosphere for the University of Texas at Dallas. Sounding rockets take their name from the nautical term “to sound,” which means to take measurements. They are basically divided into two parts: the solid-fueled rocket motor and the payload, which is the component that carries instruments into space to conduct experiments and send the data back to earth.

Koehler said payload was put together by researchers at the University of Texas and transported to Wallops where it was loaded on to the sounding rocket. On Tuesday, it was successfully launched after several delays.

“This mission was originally planned for last year and was delayed again in September,” he said. “We’re glad to finally put this behind us and get it off the schedule.”

NASA currently uses 13 different types of sounding rockets that vary in size, the weight of the payload, and the altitudes of the flights. The four-stage Black Brandt IX is the largest at 65 feet tall. The smallest is the single-stage Super Arcas, which stands just seven feet tall. The rockets range in altitude from a low of about 30 miles to as high as 800 miles. NASA launches around 25 sounding rockets a year from various locations including Wallops.

Tuesday’s launch was just the latest in a string of recent launches at Wallops, which has taken on a larger role for NASA in recent years. Last December, NASA launched a major Minotaur I rocket carrying a satellite into orbit from Wallops and followed that successful mission with the launch of an NFIRE rocket in April.

Both attracted enormous attention with thousands of onlookers crowding into the launch viewing area at the south end of Assateague and hundreds more viewing the spectacle from the Inlet in Ocean City.

While the rocket launches are the most visible sign of increased activity at Wallops, there is much going on behind the scenes creating more high paying jobs across the Lower Shore including Worcester. While there are some minor launches planned at Wallops over the next several months, including another later this month, the next significant event at the facility is the launch of another Minotaur rocket scheduled for next June.