On June 29, that moment finally came when NASA successfully launched a sounding rocket, at 4:25 a.m. EST from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia that created colourful artificial clouds visible in the US skies. For the last month, NASA had been waiting for the right moment to launch clouds of red and blue-green vapor out into space.
According to the agency, “During the 8-minute flight, 10 canisters about the size of a soft drink can were ejected in space, 6 to 12 miles away from the 670-pound main payload.
The canisters deployed blue-green and red vapor that formed artificial clouds visible from New York to North Carolina.
During an ionosphere or aurora science mission, these clouds, or vapor tracers, allow scientists on the ground to visually track particle motions in space.
The development of the multi-canister ampoule ejection system will allow scientists to gather information over a much larger area than previously possible when deploying the tracers just from the main payload.
The rocket, after being delayed multiple times over the last 30 days, flew to an altitude of about 118 miles.
Wallops received nearly 2,000 reports and photos of the cloud sightings from areas as far north as New York, south to North Carolina, and inland throughout Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and points in-between. Submitted photos can be viewed on the Wallops Facebook Page.
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility provides agile, low-cost flight and launch range services to meet government and commercial sector needs for accessing flight regimes worldwide from the Earth’s surface to the moon. Wallops’ flight assets ranging from research aircraft, unmanned aerial systems and high-altitude balloons to suborbital and orbital rockets provide a full-range of capability, while operational launch range and airfield capabilities meet ongoin1g and emerging needs in the science, aerospace, defense, and commercial industries.”
The chemical tracer clouds are designed to react to sunlight. The launch therefore happened when it was still dark on the ground but the sun was visible from space to maximize their visibility.
Keith Koehler, a NASA Wallops spokesperson, said that “These launches have to occur just after sunset or right before sunrise. You need sunlight to hit the vapors and activate them as they’re released,” he further added that these vapors should not be confused with the Aurora Borealis that’s typically seen in far northern regions of the world.
— NASA (@NASA) June 29, 2017