Scientists launch rockets to test atmospheric conditions

Feb 26, 2009

Clemson University space physicists have traveled around the world to launch rockets to test atmospheric conditions.

This shows the fourth launch of a rocket at Poker Flat Research Range. Center: time exposure of first- and second-stage firetrail. Background: auroral arc in the north.Scientists most recently launched a salvo of four rockets over Alaska to study turbulence in the upper atmosphere. The launches took place at Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks as part of a NASA sounding rocket campaign.

Associate professor of physics and astronomy Gerald Lehmacher is the principal investigator for the experiment and was assisted by graduate students Shelton Simmons and Liyu Guo.

"After six days of cloudy and snowy weather, we had perfect conditions with a clear, moonless night sky over interior Alaska," said Lehmacher. "We needed excellent viewing conditions from three camera sites to photograph the luminescent trails the payloads produced in the upper atmosphere."

The rockets were 35-foot, two-stage Terrier Orions. They released trimethyl aluminum that creates a glowing vapor trail nearly 87 miles up. Sensitive cameras on the ground track the trails. From that Lehmacher and his team can analyze upper-atmospheric winds by tracking how the vapor trails form, billow, disperse and diffuse. Two of the rockets had an additional deployable payload with instrumentation to measure electron density and neutral temperature and turbulence.

The instrumented sections are a collaboration of Clemson with Penn State University and the Leibniz-Institute for Atmospheric Physics in Germany. The University of Alaska assisted in the study with ground-based laser radar and other optical instruments. The project is sponsored by a NASA grant for three years.

In January, Clemson physicists traveled to Norway to carry out a joint experiment with Japanese scientists to study atmospheric winds and circulation from heating created by electrical currents associated with Northern Lights displays. The measurements were made with instruments flown on a Japanese S-310 rocket launched from the Andoya Rocket Range in northern Norway, as well as a suite of sensitive radar and camera instruments on the ground.

Source: Clemson University

Explore further: New USGS report: Coastal erosion threatens northern Alaska

Related Stories

Rosetta and Philae at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Jun 22, 2015

Rosetta has been exploring comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since summer 2014. In November 2014, the Philae lander landed on the surface of the comet. The first measurements by the scientific instruments allow ...

Supersonic NASA parachute torn to pieces in latest test

Jun 09, 2015

NASA scientists working toward putting people on Mars said Tuesday a supersonic parachute they are developing to slow a vehicle's approach to the Red Planet partially deployed in a test, but immediately ripped ...

NASA 'flying saucer' launch set for Friday

Jun 04, 2015

Bad weather led the US space agency to postpone until Friday the first test of the largest parachute ever deployed, with the view of one day using it to land on Mars.

Recommended for you

Creating a stopwatch for volcanic eruptions

5 hours ago

We've long known that beneath the scenic landscapes of Yellowstone National Park sleeps a supervolcano with a giant chamber of hot, partly molten rock below it.

Can lightning strike an indoor pool?

16 hours ago

Two swimming pool weather policies have surprised me in recent years. One was when I showed up to swim laps at an outdoor pool as it was beginning to drizzle. "Come on in," I was told; as long as there was no lightning, the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.