NASA’s sounding rocket experiment should have lit up the sky in the wee hours of Sunday morning, June 4 as a colorful show of artificial clouds. But the plan to fill the sky with red and green clouds has been postponed amid anticipation in much of the East Coast.
The launch of the Terrier Improved Malemute sounding rocket from NASA’s Virginia facility is expected to collect new and relevant information for probing the aurora and the ionosphere. In true NASA fashion, it’s an experience intended to be shared by the space agency to the eager American public.
Why The Launch Delay?
It’s not the first time the NASA experiment has faced delays. The launch window ran from May 31 to June 6, but weather forecasts were unfavorable in the next two days.
The tentative launch date is now June 11.
Early risers in the mid-Atlantic coast from New York to North Carolina would have witnessed the sky illuminated by red and blue-green artificial clouds if the skies were clear enough for the launch to continue Sunday morning.
The NASA experiment entails specific weather requirements. On launch day, the two-stage rocket will carry 10 canisters the size of soda cans to be deployed around five minutes post-liftoff. Afterward, the canisters will produce bright-colored artificial clouds, also known as vapor tracers.
From there, scientists will visually monitor the subsequent particle motions in order to better understand the ionosphere. Since the rocket will be deploying multiple canisters, scientists can study a much bigger area than in earlier attempts.
The sky needs to be clear at once of the assigned locations — ground stations at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and Duck in North Carolina — for the researchers to properly gather data.
On Sunday morning, real clouds got in the way of tests, leading to launch postponement.
No Dangers To Humans
The mission’s total flight time is anticipated to be about eight minutes. The payload will land in the Atlantic Ocean around 90 miles from Wallops Islands and won’t be recovered, an earlier NASA statement shared.
For those keen on viewing the flight, the NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will open starting at 3:30 a.m. on the new launch date. The mission will also be covered live on the Wallops Ustream site, with updates on Wallops Facebook and Twitter pages.
NASA asserts that the mission is not dangerous to humans. The canisters contain barium, strontium, and cupric-oxide, known to not pose immediate human risks.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the plummeting payload won’t be a problem. The Saturday launch, for instance, was canceled due to boats in the area where the payload was supposed to fall. Two attempts before it were scrubbed because of winds and clouds.
Sounding rocket experiments have been occurring for the last 40 years and have given NASA sound knowledge for its space programs. These sounding rockets’ time in space is usually brief, or at about five to 20 minutes at once.
In related news, NASA’s Juno mission sent back images of Jupiter recently, including spectacular images of the giant planet’s clouds.