WALLOPS — NASA will launch five sounding rockets in about five minutes to allow scientists to study winds at the edge of space, about 60 miles above Earth, in a mission called the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment.
The ATREX rockets’ trails should be visible around the Eastern Shore and all the way from South Carolina to New Jersey on the East Coast, within a 200 to 250 mile radius of Wallops.
It will be the first time so many rockets have been launched at once from Wallops since the early 1970s, when an eclipse was studied using a similar tactic, Wallops Flight Facility’s ATREX manager Jack Vieira said.
The rockets will release a chemical tracer, trimethyl aluminum, which will look milky white and assume a corkscrew shape.
The trails should last between 10 and 30 minutes and there will be seven in all because two rockets will release two each.
The rockets could be launched Wednesday, March 14, if the weather cooperates.
The launch window runs through April 4.
The timeframe for the launches is between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. — the mission requires clear, dark skies.
Scientists will take photographs of the tracer trails from three locations — Wallops, New Jersey and North Carolina — to study the winds in the region high above Earth which some scientists liken to a “surf zone” in the sky — equating it to the area of the ocean where waves break.
Other scientists say evidence such as the way exhaust from the space shuttle moves points more to a model similar to the jet stream.
The region, where winds have been measured at much higher speeds than theories would suggest, “is arguably the most interesting part of the atmosphere … It’s a very dynamic region,” said ATREX’s principal investigator, Miguel Larsen of Clemson University.
Winds there reach speeds of 200 to 300 miles per hour –roughly three times that of the jet stream. Scientists want to know what is responsible for producing those high winds.
“We really don’t understand why there are such large winds at those heights,” Larsen said.
This mission should help scientists better understand how the winds affect satellite communications as well as helping them gain a better understanding of planetary atmosphere’s behavior, according to Larsen.
NASA’s cost for the mission is $4 million.
The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will be open at least one hour before the opening of the daily launch window for viewing the mission by the public.
Call 757-824-1344 to confirm opening time.
The mission will be webcast beginning 2 hours before the opening of the launch window. To view the webcast, visit http://sites.wff.nasa.gov/webcast.Miguel Larsen, Jack Vieira, sounding rockets, Anomalous Transport Rocket, Wallops Flight Facility, New Jersey, South Carolina <BR/>