Five Rockets in Five Minutes

If you live on the East coast of the United States, be sure to watch the skies tonight. NASA will be launching five rockets in five minutes from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on March 14, 2012. The launches will take place late at night.

Each rocket will release a chemical tracer that will create a milky-white tracer cloud that will glow. The glowing clouds will be visible to people who are on the ground, looking up at the sky, from South Carolina through New Jersey. All of these rockets are suborbital.

These unmanned rockets are part of the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) mission. The purpose of launching the rockets is to study the high-altitude jet stream that is located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of the earth. The winds in this upper jet stream can have speeds of 200 to 300 mph. This is the same region where electrical turbulence often occurs. Those electrical currents can adversely affect radio communications, and communications with satellites.

Two of the five rockets that will be launched have instrumented payloads. They are carrying equipment that will measure the pressure and temperature in the atmosphere. The measurements will be taken when the wind speed is at its height.

One of the rockets that will be launched is Terrier Oriole rocket. This is a two-stage rocket that uses a Terrier first stage booster and then uses an Oriole rocket motor for the second stage of its propulsion. The rocket has four fins that are placed in order to provide stability.

Two of the rockets are Terrier-Improved Orions. These are a two-stage spin stabilized rocket system. It uses either a Terrier MK 12 Mod 1 or a MK70 for the first stage. It uses an improved Orion motor for the second stage.

The remaining two rockets are Terrier-Improved Malemutes. These are high-performance, two-stage rockets that are used for payloads that weigh less than 400 pounds. The first stage booster for this rocket is a Terrier MK 12 Mod 1. The second stage propulsion unit is a Thiokol Malemute TU-758 rocket motor that has been specifically designed for high-altitude research rocket applications.

I find it interesting that NASA selected March 14 to do this launch. March 14, or 3-14, is Pi Day, obviously, because Pi = 3.1415926535….

Those who live on the East coast can end their Pi Day celebrations by gazing up into the night sky, and watching for the glowing cloud produced by the rockets. It will make Pi Day of 2012 that much more memorable!

Image: Kennedy Space Center (nasa) by BigStock