Since the 1960’s when when manned rockets were first launched, NASA noticed something odd at about 60-65 miles above the surface of the earth. Up until now there was speculation about how these 200-300 mph winds were affecting satellites and rockets. Well NASA successfully launched five suborbital sounding rockets this morning from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. The first rocket was launched at 4:58 a.m. EDT and each subsequent rocket was launched 80 seconds apart. Each of the rockets released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space. The launches and clouds were reported to be seen from as far south as Wilmington, N.C.; west to Charlestown, W. Va.; and north to Buffalo, N.Y..
The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) is a Heliophysics sounding rocket mission that will gather information needed to better understand the process responsible for the high-altitude jet stream located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of the Earth.
“This area shows winds much larger than expected,” says Miguel Larsen, a space scientist at Clemson University who is the principal investigator for these five rockets, known as the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX). “We don’t yet know what we’re going to see, but there is definitely something unusual going on. ATREX will help us understand the big question about what is driving these fast winds.” “People have launched single rockets before,” says Larsen. “But the key here is that we’re extending the range of measurements to many hundreds of miles. The furthest rocket will make it half way to Bermuda.”
“In 3-D turbulence, one sees complicated movement,” says Larsen. “But there’s a tendency for 2-D turbulence to behave almost in the opposite manner – the airflow coalesces into single streams, like a jet stream.”
In order for the launches to occur, clear skies are required at three special camera sites located along the coast in Virginia, North Carolina and New Jersey.
The rockets being used for the mission are two Terrier-Improved Malemutes, two Terrier-Improved Orions and one Terrier-Oriole.