Spectacular Night Launch from NASA Wallops Shines Bright Beacon on Star Formation in Early Universe

Night time blast off of 4 stage NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility carrying the CIBER astronomy payload to study when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe. The Black Brant soars above huge water tower at adjacent Antares rocket launch pad at NASA Wallops. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Updated with more photos[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – The spectacular night time launch of a powerful Black Brant XII suborbital rocket from NASA’s launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore at 11:05 p.m. June 5 turned darkness into day as the rocket swiftly streaked skyward with the Cosmic Infrared Background ExpeRiment (CIBER) on a NASA mission to shine a bright beacon for science on star and galaxy formation in the early Universe.

A very loud explosive boom shook the local launch area at ignition that was also heard by local residents and tourists at distances over 10 miles away, gleeful spectators told me.

“The data looks good so far,” Jamie Bock, CIBER principal investigator from the California Institute of Technology, told Universe Today in an exclusive post-launch interview inside Mission Control at NASA Wallops. “I’m very happy.”

Ignition of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket following night time launch at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility at the eastern Virginia shoreline. The launch pad sits in front of the Antares rocket Launch Complex 0A dominated by the huge water tower.  The rocket carried the CIBER astronomy payload to an altitude of approximately 358 miles above the Atlantic Ocean to study when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe and how brightly they burned their nuclear fuel.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Ignition of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket following night time launch at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility at the eastern Virginia shoreline. The launch pad sits in front of the Antares rocket Launch Complex 0A dominated by the huge water tower. The rocket carried the CIBER astronomy payload to an altitude of approximately 358 miles above the Atlantic Ocean to study when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe and how brightly they burned their nuclear fuel. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The four stage Black Brant XII is the most powerful sounding rocket in America’s arsenal for scientific research.

“I’m absolutely thrilled with this launch and this is very important for Wallops,” William Wrobel, Director of NASA Wallops Flight Facility, told me in an exclusive interview moments after liftoff.

Wallops is rapidly ramping up launch activities this year with two types of powerful new medium class rockets – Antares and Minotaur V- that can loft heavy payloads to the International Space Station (ISS) and to interplanetary space from the newly built pad 0A and the upgraded, adjacent launch pad 0B.

“We have launched over 16,000 sounding rockets.”

“Soon we will be launching our first spacecraft to the moon, NASA’s LADEE orbiter. And we just launched the Antares test flight on April 21.”

I was delighted to witness the magnificent launch from less than half a mile away with a big group of cheering Wallops employees and Wallops Center Director Wrobel. See my launch photos and time lapse shot herein.

Everyone could hear piercing explosions as each stage of the Black Brant rocket ignited as it soared to the heavens to an altitude of some 358 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

Seconds after liftoff we could see what looked like a rain of sparkling fireworks showing downward towards the launch pad. It was a fabulous shower of aluminum slag and spent ammonium perchlorate rocket fuel.

A powerful NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket streaks into the night sky following its launch at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility at the eastern Virginia shoreline. The launch pad sits in front of the Antares rocket Launch Complex 0A dominated by the huge water tower.  The rocket carried the Cosmic Infrared Background ExpeRiment (CIBER) to an altitude of approximately 358 miles above the Atlantic Ocean to study when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe and how brightly they burned their nuclear fuel.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
A powerful NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket streaks spectacularly into the night sky following its launch at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility at the eastern Virginia shoreline. The launch pad sits in front of the Antares rocket Launch Complex 0A dominated by the huge water tower. The rocket carried the Cosmic Infrared Background ExpeRiment (CIBER) to an altitude of approximately 358 miles above the Atlantic Ocean to study when the first stars and galaxies formed in the universe and how brightly they burned their nuclear fuel. Side firing thrusters have ignited to impart stabilizing spin as rocket ascends above launch rail. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The awesome launch took place on a perfectly clear night drenched with brightly shining stars as the Atlantic Ocean waves relentlessly pounded the shore just a few hundred feet away.

The rocket zoomed past the prominent constellation Scorpius above the Atlantic Ocean.

In fact we were so close that we could hear the spent first stage as it was plummeting from the sky and smashed into the ocean, perhaps 10 miles away.

After completing its spectral collection to determine when did the first stars and galaxies form and how brightly did they shine burning their nuclear fuel, the CIBER payload splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean and was not recovered.

Time lapse view of night launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket zooming past constellation Scorpius (left) at 11:05 p.m. EDT above Atlantic Ocean on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility carrying the CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Time lapse view of night launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket zooming past constellation Scorpius (left) at 11:05 p.m. EDT above Atlantic Ocean on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility carrying the CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Night time launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility carrying the CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Night time launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility carrying the CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA said the launch was seen from as far away as central New Jersey, southwestern Pennsylvania and northeastern North Carolina.

One of my astronomy friends Joe Stieber, did see the launch from about 135 miles away in central New Jersey and captured beautiful time lapse shots (see below).

Time lapse view of June 5 launch of Blank Brant XII sounding rocket from Wallops Island as seen from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ (about 135 miles north from Wallops). Scorpius is above the trees at the far left. Credit: Joe Stieber- sjastro.com
Time lapse view of June 5 launch of Blank Brant XII sounding rocket from Wallops Island as seen from Carranza Field in Wharton State Forest, NJ (about 135 miles north from Wallops). Scorpius is above the trees at the far left. Credit: Joe Stieber- sjastro.com

Everything with the rocket and payload went exactly as planned.

“This was our fourth and last flight of the CIBER payload,” Bock told me. “We are still analyzing data from the last 2 flights.”

“CIBER first flew in 2009 atop smaller sounding rockets launched from White Sands Missile Range, N.M. and was recovered.”

“On this flight we wanted to send the experiment higher than ever before to collect more measurements for a longer period of time to help determine the brightness of the early Universe.”

CIBER is instrumented with 2 cameras and 2 spectrometers.

“The payload had to be cooled to 84 Kelvin with liquid nitrogen before launch in order for us to make the measurements,” Bock told me.

“The launch was delayed a day from June 4 because of difficulty both in cooling the payload to the required temperature and in keeping the temperature fluctuations to less than 100 microkelvins,” Bock explained

The CIBER experiment involves scientists and funding from the US and NASA, Japan and South Korea.

Bock is already thinking about the next logical steps with a space based science satellite.

Space.com has now featured an album of my CIBER launch photos – here

Night  launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA carrying CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer
Night launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA carrying CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Conjunctions, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations

June 11: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; NJ State Museum Planetarium and Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), Trenton, NJ, 730 PM.

June 12: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 8 PM.

June 23: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Aerial view of NASA Wallops launch site on Virginia shore shows launch pads for both suborbital and orbital rockets. This photo was snapped from on top of Pad 0B that will soon launch NASA‘s LADEE orbiter to the Moon. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Aerial view of NASA Wallops launch site on Virginia shore shows launch pads for both suborbital and orbital rockets. CIBER’s Black Brant XII rocket blasted off just behind the Pad 0A water tower. This photo was snapped from on top of Pad 0B that will soon launch NASA‘s LADEE orbiter to the Moon. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA’s CIBER experiment seeks clues to the formation of the first stars and galaxies. CIBER blasted off on June 5 from the NASA  Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. It will study the total sky brightness, to probe the component from first stars and galaxies using spectral signatures, and searches for the distinctive spatial pattern seen in this image, produced by large-scale structures from dark matter. This shows a numerical simulation of the density of matter when the universe was one billion years old. Galaxies formation follows the gravitational wells produced by dark matter, where hydrogen gas coalesces, and the first stars ignite.  Credit: Volker Springel/Virgo Consortium.
NASA’s CIBER experiment seeks clues to the formation of the first stars and galaxies. CIBER blasted off on June 5 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. It will study the total sky brightness, to probe the component from first stars and galaxies using spectral signatures, and searches for the distinctive spatial pattern seen in this image, produced by large-scale structures from dark matter. This shows a numerical simulation of the density of matter when the universe was one billion years old. Galaxies formation follows the gravitational wells produced by dark matter, where hydrogen gas coalesces, and the first stars ignite. Credit: Volker Springel/Virgo Consortium.
NASA Time lapse view shows multiple stages firing during night launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11:05 p.m. EDT above Atlantic Ocean on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility carrying the CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: NASA/Jamie Adkins
NASA Time lapse view shows multiple stages firing during night launch of NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11:05 p.m. EDT above Atlantic Ocean on June 5, 2013 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility carrying the CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: NASA/Jamie Adkins
NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket streaks skyward after blastoff at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA carrying CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA Black Brant XII suborbital rocket streaks skyward after blastoff at 11:05 p.m. EDT on June 5, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA carrying CIBER astronomy payload. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA Experiment Seeks Signatures of Formation of First Stars and Galaxies

When did the first stars and galaxies form in the universe and how brightly did they burn?

Scientists are looking for tell-tale signs of galaxy formation with an experimental payload called CIBER.

NASA will briefly turn night into day near midnight along the mid-Atlantic coastline on June 4 – seeking answers to illuminate researchers theories about the beginnings of our Universe with the launch of the Cosmic Infrared Background ExpeRiment (CIBER) from NASA’s launch range at the Wallops Flight Facility along Virginia’s eastern shoreline. See viewing map below.

CIBER will blast off atop a powerful four stage Black Brant XII suborbital rocket at 11 PM EDT Tuesday night, June 4. The launch window extends until 11:59 PM EDT.

Currently the weather forecast is excellent.

The public is invited to observe the launch from an excellent viewing site at the NASA Visitor Center at Wallops which will open at 9:30 PM on launch day.

The night launch will be visible to spectators along a long swath of the US East coast from New Jersey to North Carolina; if the skies are clear as CIBER ascends to space to an altitude of over 350 miles and arcs over on a southeasterly trajectory.

Backup launch days are available from June 5 through 10.

Launch visibility map for the CIBER payload launch from NASA Wallops, Va, on June 4, 2013 at 11 PM EDT. Credit: NASA
Launch visibility map for the CIBER payload launch from NASA Wallops, Va, on June 4, 2013 at 11 PM EDT. Credit: NASA

“The objectives of the experiment are of fundamental importance for astrophysics: to probe the process of first galaxy formation. The measurement is extremely difficult technically,” said Jamie Bock, CIBER principal investigator from the California Institute of Technology

Over the past several decades more than 20,000 sounding rockets have blasted off from an array of launch pads at Wallops, which is NASA’s lead center for suborbital science.

The Black Brant XII sounding rocket is over 70 feet tall.

The launch pad sits adjacent to the newly constructed Pad 0A of the Virginia Spaceflight Authority from which the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket blasted off on its maiden flight on April 21, 2013.

“The first massive stars to form in the universe produced copious ultraviolet light that ionized gas from neutral hydrogen. CIBER observes in the near infrared, as the expansion of the universe stretched the original short ultraviolet wavelengths to long near-infrared wavelengths today.”

“CIBER investigates two telltale signatures of first star formation — the total brightness of the sky after subtracting all foregrounds, and a distinctive pattern of spatial variations,” according to Bock.

Preparing the CIBER instrument for flight. The optics and detectors are cooled by liquid nitrogen to -19C (77 K, -312F) during the flight to eliminate infrared emission from the instrument and to achieve the best detector sensitivity. Photo: NASA/Berit Bland
Preparing the CIBER instrument for flight. The optics and detectors are cooled by liquid nitrogen to -19C (77 K, -312F) during the flight to eliminate infrared emission from the instrument and to achieve the best detector sensitivity. Photo: NASA/Berit Bland

This will be the fourth launch of CIBER since 2009 but the first from Wallops. The three prior launches were all from the White Sands Missile Range, N.M. and in each case the payload was recovered and refurbished for reflight.

However the June 4 launch will also be the last hurrah for CIBER.

The scientists are using a more powerful Black Brant rocket to loft the payload far higher than ever before so that it can make measurements for more than twice as long as ever before.

The consequence of flying higher is that CIBER will splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, about 400 miles off the Virgina shore and will not be recovered.

You can watch the launch live on NASA Ustream beginning at 10 p.m. on launch day at: http://www.ustream.com/channel/nasa-wallops

I will be onsite at Wallops for Universe Today.

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Conjunctions, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations

June 4: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8:30 PM

June 11: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; NJ State Museum Planetarium and Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), Trenton, NJ, 730 PM.

June 12: “Send your Name to Mars on MAVEN” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 8 PM.

NASA’s CIBER payload will launch from a suborbital launch pad located directly behind this Antares rocket erected at Pad 0A at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility along the Eastern shore of Virginia. Only a few hundred feet of beach sand and a miniscule sea wall separate the Wallops Island pads from the Atlantic Ocean waves and Mother Nature. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
NASA’s CIBER payload will launch from a suborbital launch pad located directly behind this Antares rocket erected at Pad 0A at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility along the Eastern shore of Virginia. Only a few hundred feet of beach sand and a miniscule sea wall separate the Wallops Island pads from the Atlantic Ocean waves and Mother Nature.
Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)