An early morning launch from White Sands Missile Range Feb. 25 took a scientific payload high into the atmosphere where it created a glowing cloud.
The rocket, a NASA terrier black-brant research rocket carrying a payload designed by engineers and scientists from Air Force Research Labs, reached an attitude of over 100 miles, and released a vapor into the near vacuum of space to study the earth’s ionosphere. The ionosphere is the region of near-Earth space where electrons naturally separate from molecules and float separately to create a plasma, or ionized gas.
Ground stations across the southwest will be used to take a variety of measurements of the ionosphere during the experiment. The ionosphere was originally discovered a century ago as scientists tried to explain how radio waves could follow the curvature of the Earth across the Atlantic Ocean instead of shooting straight out into space. Today, many processes remain to be understood before scientists can accurately predict the day-to-day “weather” in this region of space surrounding the Earth.
White Sands Missile Range has a very active sounding rocket program, conducting regular launches in support of both military operations and research, as well as supporting civilian scientific endeavors. The launch from White Sands Missile Range allows for a safe recovery of the rocket and payload within the range.