The early morning skies along the mid-Atlantic coast will light up with luminescent clouds as NASA tests a new system that supports science studies of the ionosphere and aurora with a sounding rocket launch May 31 from the Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.
During the flight of a two-stage Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket between 4:25 and 4:42 a.m. EDT, ten canisters about the size of a soft drink can will be deployed in the air.
The canisters will deploy between four and five minutes after launch. Blue-green and red vapor forming artificial clouds should be visible. These clouds or vapor tracers allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.
The development of the multi-canister or ampule ejection system will allow scientists to gather information over a much larger area than previously allowed when deploying the vapor just from the main payload.
Ground cameras will be stationed at Wallops and in Duck, N.C., to view the vapor tracers. Clear skies are preferred, but not required, at both sites for the launch to occur.
The vapor tracers are formed through the interaction of barium, strontium and cupric-oxide. The tracers will be released at altitudes 96 to 124 miles high and pose absolutely no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast.
The vapor tracers could be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward to Charlottesville, Va.
The total flight time for the mission is expected to be about eight minutes. The payload will land in the Atlantic Ocean about 90 miles from Wallops Island and will not be recovered.