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Antares roars into space

Antares Rocket Launches

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket is seen as it launches from Pad-0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, Sunday, April 21, 2013. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA COMMERCIAL space partner Orbital Sciences Corporation launched its Antares rocket on Sunday from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad-0A at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, USA.

The test flight was the first launch from the pad at Wallops and was the first flight of Antares, which delivered the equivalent mass of a spacecraft, a so-called mass simulated payload, into Earth orbit.

The test of the Antares launch system began with the rocket’s rollout and placement on the launch pad April 6, and culminated with the separation of the mass simulator payload from the rocket just minutes after launch.

Here’s the video of the launch – it goes for about 12 minutes:

The completed flight paves the way for a demonstration mission by Orbital to resupply the space station later this year. Antares will launch experiments and supplies to the orbiting laboratory carried aboard the company’s new Cygnus cargo spacecraft through NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Orbital is building and testing its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. After successful completion of a COTS demonstration mission to the station, Orbital will begin conducting eight planned cargo resupply flights to the orbiting laboratory through a US$1.9 billion NASA contract with the company.

“Today’s successful test marks another significant milestone in NASA’s plan to rely on American companies to launch supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Congratulations to Orbital Sciences and the NASA team that worked alongside them for the picture-perfect launch of the Antares rocket. In addition to providing further evidence that our strategic space exploration plan is moving forward, this test also inaugurates America’s newest spaceport capable of launching to the space station, opening up additional opportunities for commercial and government users.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program also is working with commercial space partners to develop capabilities to launch U.S. astronauts from American soil in the next few years.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Rocket volley to study the atmosphere

NASA SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED five suborbital sounding rockets March 27 from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream.

The first rocket was launched at 4:58am US EDT and each subsequent rocket was launched at 80 second intervals. Each rocket released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space.

The goal of the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) was to improve understanding of the process that drives fast-moving winds high in the thermosphere.

Tracking the way the clouds move can help scientists understand the movement of the winds some 110 kilometres up in the sky, which in turn will help create better models of the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communications systems.

Winds up high

Fiery trails from four of the five sounding rockets are clearly visible in the time-lapse photograph (bottom of this page) of the launch. The other image (below) shows two of the clouds left in the wake of the experiment; the rockets released trimethyl aluminium, a substance that burns spontaneously in the presence of oxygen.

The harmless by-products of this glowing reaction were visible to the naked eye as far south as Wilmington, North Carolina; west to Charlestown, West Virginia; and north to Buffalo, New York. Both photographs were taken near the launch site at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Throughout the experiment, researchers used specialised cameras in North Carolina, Virginia, and New Jersey—as well as temperature and pressure instruments on two of the rockets—to monitor the clouds.

By measuring how quickly the clouds move away from each other and integrating that information into atmospheric models, they hope to improve their understanding of the 320 to 480 kilometre winds in the thermosphere.

ATREX experiment clouds

Each ATREX rocket released a chemical that reacts with oxygen, forming milky white clouds in the upper atmosphere.

First noticed by scientists in the 1960s, the winds are thought to be part of a high-altitude jet stream that’s distinct from the one lower in the troposphere, where commercial aircraft fly. Observing the turbulence produced by these winds should make it possible to determine what’s driving them.

An improved understanding of the upper jet stream will make it easier to model the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage satellites and disrupt communications systems. The experiment will also help explain how the effects of atmospheric disturbances in one part of the globe can be transported to other parts of the globe in a mere day or two.

The launches are part of a broader sounding rocket programmeat NASA that conducts approximately 20 flights a year from launch sites around the world.

The trails of the five ATREX sounding rockets captured in a time-lapse photo.

The trails of the five ATREX sounding rockets captured in a time-lapse photo.

Photographs courtesy NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Text adapted from information issued by Karen Fox and Adam Voiland, NASA Earth Observatory.

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