NASA is attempting to launch five rockets in five minutes from the Wallops Flight Facility this month. So far, conditions have not been favorable but the window of opportunity is open until April 3rd. The five rockets will launch into the far reaches of the atmosphere and release tracers that will form white clouds at an altitude of 100 kilometers to investigate the upper atmosphere jet stream. These are not to be confused with the jet stream that helps, or hinders, your flight getting in on time. These winds are literally at the boundary of space and flow at a couple hundred kilometers per hour. From a NASA press release:
“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.”
The spread of the tracer clouds will be tracked by cameras in North Carolina, on the Outer-Banks, and in New Jersey. NASA points out that the tracer being used is a combination of chemicals that occur naturally in the atmosphere and pose no risk to the general public or environment. The NASA Wallops Flight Facility, part of the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, is located on the Virginia coast on the Delmarva peninsula near the Maryland boarder. It is a site with a long history of launch campaigns including test launches from the Mercury program, countless sounding rockets, and soon, rockets capable of servicing the ISS and even a launch to the Moon with the LADEE mission. The facility is also responsible for NASA sounding rocket launches and balloon payload launches around the world. If you’re in the area and you can keep track of the launch windows, this would be a great burst of launches to see!