NASA is planning to send a sounding rocket sometime between today and March 3, 2017, from Poker Flat Research Range, Alaska. You might say that sounding rockets or research rockets are fairly common so what is particularly exciting about this one? This rocket shall create white artificial clouds in space during its brief ten-minute flight. This particular rocket is one of the five rockets that will get fired up to study auroras and its interactions with Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere. To get more specific about this launch, it shall study the height dependent processes that create localised neutral jets within an aurora.
This launch shall see two Black Brant IX rockets being fired simultaneously. One of the rockets is set to fly to an apogee of 107 miles and the other one to 201 miles. The lower altitude rocket shall be responsible for creating white luminescent clouds. The white vapour shall consist of trimethyl aluminium and will act as a medium of visually tracking winds within the aurora from ground. NASA goes ahead in explaining that this experiment will not be toxic to the environment. The reaction in space between TMA and oxygen shall form aluminium oxide, carbon dioxide and water vapour in trace amounts, which is not more than the concentration found normally in air. Plus the amount of TMA used in this experiment is much less than a typical fireworks display. Additionally, the substance will be released somewhere between 60 to 100 miles in space which poses no threat to the people at ground level.
While we do not know on which date this launch will occur we know that these launches are scheduled between 7pm and midnight. The date will be decided depending on clear skies and auroral activity. You can catch the live stream on this link.
Source: NASA via Engadget