NASA’s rocket launch will test the science package for future missions

The SpEED Demon team poses with the payload section during testing at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Credit: NASA Wallops/Berit Bland

NASA will test new science equipment for future missions with the launch of a probe rocket on August 22 from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The ElectroDynamics Sporadic-E demonstration mission, or SpEED Demon, will fly new instrumentation alongside legacy instruments that have flown on other sounding rocket missions, but not together. The SpEED Demon instruments will be further improved based on the results of this launch and will subsequently fly on a science mission targeted in the summer of 2024 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and possibly many other sounding rocket opportunities.

SpEED Demon will be launched on a 40-foot-tall Terrier-enhanced Malemute sonic rocket between 9:00 PM EDT on August 22nd and 1:00 AM on August 23rd. The security release dates are August 23rd to August 27th.

The NASA Wallops Visitor Center will open to the public at 8:00 PM on launch day to view the flight. The rocket launch is expected to be visible from the Mid-Atlantic/Chesapeake Bay region. Live coverage of the mission is scheduled to begin at 8:40 p.m. on the Wallops YouTube site.

While SpEED Demon’s primary goal is to test the instrument package, scientists hope they will be able to measure sporadic E layers in the ionosphere, the electrified upper part of Earth’s atmosphere that is made of ionized gas called plasma .

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft discovered “layers” and “rifts” in the electrically charged part of Mars’ upper atmosphere (the ionosphere). The phenomenon is similar to the sporadic E-layers that occur regularly on Earth, which SpEED Demon is studying, which can cause unpredictable disruptions to radio communications. This unexpected discovery by MAVEN demonstrates that Mars is a unique laboratory to explore and better understand this highly disruptive phenomenon that can occur on any planet. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

“Sporadic E layers are like irregular, invisible clouds of dense plasma that sometimes disrupt radio communications,” said Aroh Barjatya, principal investigator of SpEED Demon and director of the Aeronautical University’s Space and Atmospheric Instrumentation Laboratory Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“These layers are seen worldwide, and those in Earth’s mid-latitudes increase in abundance and activity during the summer,” Barjatya said. “Having a complete understanding of them is necessary to accurately model them and predict their occurrence.”

On Earth, sporadic E layers occur at 62 and 87 miles, a range that is nearly impossible to study in situ with satellites. Only sonic rocket missions, such as SpEED Demon, offer the opportunity to fly through the layers and take direct measurements of this phenomenon on Earth. Electrical currents associated with sporadic E layers have been measured before, but not with a full instrumented package that could give deeper insight into this activity.

NASA's rocket launch will test the science package for future missions

A visibility map of the Mid-Atlantic region shows how many seconds after launch, weather permitting, the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket may be visible in the sky. Credit: NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

“SpEED Demon is demonstrating a complete instrument package on a single science payload rocket. The main payload ejects four instrumented sub-payloads, thereby enabling simultaneous measurements over an expansive area in space. This capability is expected to “use it for many other scientific sounding rocket missions in the future,” Barjatya said.

SpEED Demon is designed to test technology, so it won’t wait for precise science conditions to occur like other science-focused missions do. “But we might get lucky,” Barjatya said. “The current release window of August 22 is at the end of the Northern Hemisphere sporadic E layer season. So fingers crossed.”

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Summons: NASA rocket launch to test science package for future missions (2022, August 22) Retrieved August 22, 2022, from -science-package-future.html

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