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: Scientists monitoring Hawaii lava undertake risks

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Space: The final frontier... open to the public

15 hours ago

Historically, spaceflight has been reserved for the very healthy. Astronauts are selected for their ability to meet the highest physical and psychological standards to prepare them for any unknown challenges. However, with ...

Europe readies 'space plane' for sub-orbital test flight

Sep 09, 2014

The European Space Agency on Tuesday put the final touches to its first-ever "space plane" before blasting it into sub-orbit for tests aimed at eventually paving the way to the continent's first space shuttle.

Image: IXV drop-test model

Sep 04, 2014

This drop-test model of ESA's IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle will be among the attractions on display at this year's ESTEC Open Day on 5 October.

A salty, martian meteorite offers clues to habitability

Aug 28, 2014

Life as we know it requires energy of some sort to survive and thrive. For plants, that source of energy is the Sun. But there are some microbes that can survive using energy from chemical reactions. Some ...

Recommended for you

Scientists monitoring Hawaii lava undertake risks

4 hours ago

New photos from the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory give a glimpse into the hazardous work scientists undertake to monitor lava that's threatening to cross a major highway.

NASA sees Odile soaking Mexico and southwestern US

15 hours ago

Tropical Storm Odile continues to spread moisture and generate strong thunderstorms with heavy rainfall over northern Mexico's mainland and the Baja California as well as the southwestern U.S. NASA's Tropical ...

NASA sees Tropical Storm Polo intensifying

15 hours ago

Tropical storm warnings now issued for a portion of the Southwestern coast of Mexico as Polo continues to strengthen. Infrared imagery from NASA's Aqua satellite showed powerful thunderstorms around the center ...

User comments : 0