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

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

NASA will test new science instruments for future missions with a sonic rocket launch on August 22 from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The Sporadic-E ElectroDynamics Demonstration Mission, or SPEED Demon, will fly the new instruments alongside legacy instruments flown on other sounding rocket missions, but not together. Based on the results from this launch, the Speed ​​Demon instruments will be further refined and later flown on a science mission targeted for summer 2024 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and possibly many other sonic rocket opportunities.

The SPEED Demon will launch on a 40-foot Terrier-modified Malemut sounding rocket between 9 a.m. EDT Aug. 22 and 1 Aug. 23. Backup launch dates are August 23rd to August 27th.

The NASA Wallops Visitor Center will be open to the public at 8 a.m. on launch day for flight viewing. 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 a.m. on the Wallops YouTube site.

While Speed ​​Demon’s main purpose is to test the instrument package, scientists are hopeful that they will be able to measure sporadic-E layers in the ionosphere, the electrified upper part of Earth’s atmosphere that is made up of ionized gas called plasma.

NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutionN) spacecraft discovered “layers” and “rifts” in the electrically charged portion of Mars’ upper atmosphere (ionosphere). The phenomenon is similar to the sporadic E-layers that often occur on Earth, which Speed ​​Demon is studying, which can cause unexpected disruptions in radio communications. This unexpected discovery by MAVEN shows that Mars is a unique laboratory for exploring and better understanding this highly disruptive event that can occur on any planet. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

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

“These layers are visible all over the world, with layers in Earth’s mid-latitudes becoming more abundant and active in summer,” Badjatya said. “Having a thorough understanding of them is essential to accurately model them and predict their occurrence.”

On Earth, sporadic E-layers range from 62 to 87 miles, a range that is nearly impossible to study with satellites. Only sounding rocket missions, such as SPEED MONSTER, offer the opportunity to fly through the layers and directly measure this phenomenon on Earth. Electrical currents associated with sputtering-E layers have been measured previously but not with a comprehensive instrument package that could give deep 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 a launch, weather permitting, would allow the Terrier-modified Malemut sounding rocket to be visible in the sky. Credit: NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

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

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

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