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 a sounder launch on August 22 from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The Sporadic-E ElectroDynamics Demonstration mission, or SpEED Demon, will fly new instruments 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 from this launch and will then fly on a science mission targeted for the summer of 2024 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and possibly many other rocket options.

The SpEED Demon will be launched on a 40-meter long Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket between 9:00 PM EDT August 22nd and 1:00 AM August 23rd. Reserve departure dates are August 23 to 27.

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

While SpEED Demon’s primary goal is to test the suite of instruments, scientists hope they may be able to measure sporadic E-layers in the ionosphere, the electrified upper part of Earth’s atmosphere that is made of ionizing gas called plasma.

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

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

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

On Earth, sporadic E-layers occur between 62 and 87 miles, a distance that is almost impossible to study in-situ with satellites. Only sounding 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 comprehensive instrumentation package that could provide 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 of launch, weather permitting, the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding missile can be visible in the sky. Credit: NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

“The SpEED Demon is demonstrating a comprehensive instrument package in a single rocket science payload. The main payload launches four instrumented sub-payloads, thus allowing simultaneous measurements over a wide area in space. Such a capability is expected to be used for many sounding other scientific rocket missions in the future”, said Barjatya.

The SpEED Demon is designed to test the technology and therefore will not wait for precise science conditions to occur as other science-focused missions do. “But we might get lucky,” Barjatya said. “The current launch window of August 22nd is at the end of the Northern Hemisphere sporadic layer season. So fingers crossed.”

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

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