NASA is gearing up to launch a fusillade of five rockets in five minutes on a mission to probe fast-moving winds near the edge of space.
The small suborbital rockets form the core of the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) are scheduled to blast off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia March 14, according to a mission profile. The mission will gather information about the high-altitude jet stream, which whistles along roughly 100 kilometers above Earth’s surface.
If all goes as planned, the five ATREX sounding rockets will launch within 320 seconds, releasing chemical tracers into the high-altitude jet stream. The tracers will then form milky white clouds, allowing scientists to track the atmospheric region’s winds, which can exceed 480 kilometers per hour.
Earth’s high-altitude jet stream blows at a higher altitude than the jet stream commonly referred to in weather forecasts. The superfast winds in this upper jet stream facilitate rapid transport from the mid-latitudes to our planet’s polar regions.
The high-altitude jet stream is located in the same atmospheric region where some strong electrical currents occur.
This part of the ionosphere therefore has a lot of electrical turbulence, which can disrupt satellite and radio communications, researchers said. While all five rockets will release chemical tracers at the edge of space, two of them will also carry instruments that measure temperature and atmospheric pressure. The rockets being used for the mission are two Terrier-Improved Malemutes, two Terrier-Improved Orions and one Terrier-Oriole.
The ATREX launch window extends from March 14 through April 3, opening no earlier than 11 p.m. EST each night and closing no later than 6:30 a.m. EST the following morning. Liftoff will not occur unless skies are clear at three special camera sites in Virginia, North Carolina and New Jersey, NASA officials said.