Student Science Thunders to Space from NASA Wallops

A Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital rocket carrying experiments developed by university students nationwide in the RockSat-X program was successfully launched at 6 a.m. EDT August 13. Credit: NASA/Allison Stancil
Watch the cool Video below
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WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – A nearly 900 pound complex payload integrated with dozens of science experiments created by talented university students in a wide range of disciplines and from all across America streaked to space from NASA’s beachside Wallops launch complex in Virginia on August 13 – just before the crack of dawn.

The RockSat-X science payload blasted off atop a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket at 6 a.m. from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

As a research scientist myself it was thrilling to witness the thunderous liftoff standing alongside more than 40 budding aerospace students brimming with enthusiasm for the chance to participate in a real research program that shot to space like a speeding bullet.

“It’s a hands on, real world learning experience,” Chris Koehler told Universe Today at the Wallops launch pad. Koehler is Director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium that manages the RockSat-X program in a joint educational partnership with NASA.

The hopes and dreams of everyone was flying along.

Here’s a cool NASA video of the RockSat-X Aug. 13 launch:

The students are responsible for conceiving, managing, assembling and testing the experiments, Koehler told me. Professors and industrial partners mentor and guide the students.

RockSat-X is the third of three practical STEM educational programs where the students master increasingly difficult skills that ultimately result in a series of sounding rocket launches.

“Not everything works as planned,” said Koehler. “And that’s by design. Some experiments fail but the students learn valuable lessons and apply them on the next flight.”

“The RockSat program started in 2008. And it’s getting bigger and growing in popularity every year,” Koehler explained.

August 13 launch of RockSat-X student science payload atop a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital at 6 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
August 13 launch of RockSat-X student science payload atop a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital at 6 a.m. EDT from NASA Wallops. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 2013 RockSat-X launch program included participants from seven universities, including the University of Colorado at Boulder; the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan; the University of Maryland, College Park; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.; West Virginia University, Morgantown; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho.

We all watched as a group and counted down the final 10 seconds to blastoff just a few hundred yards (meters) away from the launch pad – Whooping and hollering as the first stage ignited with a thunderous roar. Then the second stage flash – and more yelling and screams of joy! – – listen to the video.

Moments later we saw the first stage plummeting and heard a loud thud as it crashed into the ocean just 10 miles or so offshore.

A Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital rocket carrying experiments developed by university students nationwide in the RockSat-X program was successfully launched at 6 a.m. EDT August 13.  Credit: NASA/Brea Reeves
A Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital rocket carrying experiments developed by university students nationwide in the RockSat-X program was successfully launched at 6 a.m. EDT August 13. Credit: NASA/Brea Reeves

For most of the students -ranging from freshman to seniors – it was their first time seeing a rocket launch.

“I’m so excited to be here at NASA Wallops and see my teams experiment reach space!” said Hector, one of a dozen aerospace students who journeyed to Wallops from Puerto Rico.

Local Wallops area spectators and tourists told me they could hear the rocket booming from viewing sites more than 10 miles away.

Others who ‘overslept’ were awoken by the rocket thunder and houses shaking.

Suborbital rockets still make for big bangs!

The Puerto Rican students very cool experiment aimed at capturing meteorite particles in space using 6 cubes of aerogel that were extended out from the rocket as it descended back to Earth, said Oscar Resto, Science Instrument specialist and leader of the Puerto Rican team during an interview at the launch complex.

“Seeing this rocket launch was the best experience of my life,” Hector told me. “This was my first time visiting the mainland. I hope to come back again!”

Another team of 7 students from Northwest Nazarene University (NNU), Idaho aimed to investigate the durability of the world’s first physically flexible integrated chips.

“Our experiment tested the flexibility of integrated circuit chips in the cryogenic environment of space,” Prof Stephen Parke of NNU, Idaho, told Universe Today in an interview at the launch pad.

“The two year project is a collaboration with chipmaker American Semiconductor, Inc based in Boise, Idaho.”

“The chips were mechanically and electrically exercised, or moved, during the flight under the extremely cold conditions in space – of below Minus 50 C – to test whether they would survive,” Parke told me.

The 44 foot long, two stage rocket flew on a parabolic arc and a southeasterly trajectory. The 20 foot RockSat-X payload soared to an altitude of approximately 94 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

More than 40 University students and mentors participating in the Aug. 13 RockSat-X science payload pose for post launch photo op at NASA Wallops Island, VA, launch complex that launched their own developed experiments to space.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
More than 40 University students and mentors participating in the Aug. 13 RockSat-X science payload pose for post launch photo op at NASA Wallops Island, VA, launch complex that launched their own developed experiments to space. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Telemetry and science data was successfully transmitted and received from the rocket during the flight.

The payload then descended back to Earth, deployed a 24 foot wide parachute and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean some 90 miles offshore from Wallops Flight Facility. Overall the mission lasted about 20 minutes.

A commercial fishing boat hauled in the payload and brought it back to Wallops about 7 hours later.

By 2 p.m. the RockSat-X payload was back onsite at the Wallops ‘Rocket Factory’.

Rocket science university students get ready to tear apart the RockSat-X science payload after recovery from Atlantic Ocean splashdown following Aug. 13 rocket blastoff from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Rocket science university students get ready to tear apart the RockSat-X science payload after recovery from Atlantic Ocean splashdown following Aug. 13 rocket blastoff from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

And I was on-hand as the gleeful students began tearing it apart to disengage their individual experiments to begin a week’s long process of assessing the outcome, analyzing the data and evaluating what worked and what failed. See my photos.

Rocket science university students from Puerto Rico pose for post flight photo op with their disengaged science experiment seeking to capture meteorite particles from space aboard Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that launched  on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Rocket science university students from Puerto Rico pose for post flight photo op with their disengaged science experiment seeking to capture meteorite particles from space aboard Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that launched on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Included among the dozens of custom built student experiments were HD cameras, investigations into crystal growth and ferro fluids in microgravity, measuring the electron density in the E region (90-120km), aerogel dust collection on an exposed telescoping arm from the rockets side, effects of radiation damage on various electrical components, determining the durability of flexible electronics in the cryogenic environment of space and creating a despun video of the flight.

Indeed we already know that not every experiment worked. But that’s the normal scientific method – ‘Build a little, fly a little’.

New students are already applying to the 2014 RockSat program. And some of these students will return next year with thoughtful upgrades and new ideas!

The launch was dedicated in memory of another extremely bright young student named Brad Mason, who tragically passed away two weeks ago. Brad was a beloved intern at NASA Wallops this summer and a friend. Brad’s name was inscribed on the side of the rocket. Read about Brad at the NASA Wallops website.

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Suborbital science, Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, MAVEN and Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 5/6/16/17: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Aerospace Students Shoot for the Stars and Space Flight Dreams

Rocket science university students from Puerto Rico pose for photo op with the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that will launch their own developed RockSat-X science experiments to space on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – How many of you have dreamed of flying yourselves or your breakthrough experiments to the High Frontier? Well if you are a talented student, NASA may have a ticket for you.

A diverse group of highly motivated aerospace students from seven universities spread across the United States have descended on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility along the Eastern Shore of Virginia to fulfill the dream of their lifetimes – launching their very own science experiments aboard a rocket bound for space.

I met the thrilled students and professors today beside their rocket at the Wallops Island launch pad.

On Aug 13, after years of hard work, an impressive array of research experiments developed by more than 40 university students will soar to space on the RockSat-X payload atop a 44-foot tall Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket at 6 a.m. EDT.

Students from Northwest Nazarene University observe the pre-integration of their experiment into the RockSat-X payload at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in June. Students from seven universities are participating in the program and will attend the launch on August 13.  Credit: NASA/K. Koehler
Students from Northwest Nazarene University observe the pre-integration of their experiment into the RockSat-X payload at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in June. Students from seven universities are participating in the program and will attend the launch on August 13. Credit: NASA/K. Koehler

The two stage rocket will rapidly ascend on a southeasterly trajectory to an altitude of some 97 miles and transmit valuable data in-flight during the 12-minute mission.

The launch will be visible to spectators in parts of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, and perhaps a bit beyond. Check out the visibility map below.

The RockSat-X flight profile and visibility map. RockSat-X is scheduled to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, VA on Aug. 13 at 6.a.m. EDT  Credit: NASA
The RockSat-X flight profile and visibility map. RockSat-X is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, VA on Aug. 13 at 6.a.m. EDT Credit: NASA

If you’re available, try venturing out to watch it. The available window lasts until 10 a.m. EDT if needed.

The students will put their classroom learning to the test with experiments and instruments built by their own hands and installed on the 20 foot long RockSat-X payload. The integrated payload accounts for nearly half the length of the Terrier Malamute suborbital rocket. It’s an out of this world application of the scientific method.

Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket erected for launch of student experiments  on RockSat-X payload on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket erected for launch of student experiments on RockSat-X payload on Aug. 13 at 6 a.m. from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Included among the dozens of custom built student experiments are HD cameras, investigations into crystal growth and ferro fluids in microgravity, measuring the electron density in the E region (90-120km), aerogel dust collection on an exposed telescoping arm from the rockets side, effects of radiation damage on various electrical components, determining the durability of flexible electronics in the cryogenic environment of space and creating a despun video of the flight.

At the conclusion of the flight, the payload will descend to Earth via a parachute and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 86 miles offshore from Wallops.

Commercial fishing ships under contract to NASA will then recover the RockSat-X payload and return it to the students a few hours later, NASA spokesman Keith Koehler told Universe Today.

They will tear apart the payload, disengage their experiments and begin analyzing the data to see how well their instruments performed compared to the preflight hypotheses’.

RockSat-X is a joint educational activity between NASA and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. It is the third of three practical STEM educational programs where the students must master increasingly difficult skill level requirements leading to a series of sounding rocket liftoffs.

In mid-June, some 50 new students participated in the successful ‘RockOn’ introductory level payload launch from Wallops using a smaller Terrier-Improved Orion rocket.

“The goal of the RockSat-X program is to provide students a hands-on experience in developing experiments for space flight,” said Chris Koehler, Director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

“This experience allows these students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to a real world hands-on project.”

The students participating in this year’s RockSat-X launch program hail from the University of Colorado at Boulder; the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan; the University of Maryland, College Park; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.; West Virginia University, Morgantown; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho.

Panoramic view of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility launch range at Virginia’s Eastern Shore during prior launch of two suborbital sounding rockets as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission. RockSat-X payload will launch on a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Panoramic view of the NASA Wallops Flight Facility launch range at Virginia’s Eastern Shore during prior launch of two suborbital sounding rockets as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission. RockSat-X payload will launch on a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Some of these students today could well become the pioneering aerospace industry leaders of tomorrow!

In the event of a delay forced by weather or technical glitches, August 14 is the backup launch day.

A great place to witness the blastoff is from the NASA Wallops Visitor Center, offering a clear view to the NASA launch range.

It opens at 5 a.m. on launch day and is a wonderful place to learn about NASA missions – especially the pair of exciting and unprecedented upcoming launches of the LADEE lunar science probe to the moon and the Cygnus cargo carrier to the ISS in September.

Both LADEE and Cygnus are historic first of their kind flights from NASA Wallops.

Live coverage of the launch is available via UStream beginning at 5 a.m. on launch day at:
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-tv-wallops

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Suborbital Science, Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, MAVEN and Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Aug 12/13: “RockSat-X Suborbital Launch, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Sep 5/6/16/17: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

More than 40 University students participating in the Aug. 13 RockSat-X science payload pose for photo op with the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that will launch their own experiments to space from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
More than 40 University students participating in the Aug. 13 RockSat-X science payload pose for photo op with the Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket that will launch their own experiments to space from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s Independence Day Fireworks from Wallops Investigates Earth’s Global Daytime Dynamo Current

July 4 Morning Fireworks from NASA!
A NASA Black Brant V Sounding Rocket launches in support of the Daytime Dynamo Mission on July 4, 2013 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility, VA. Credit: NASA/J. Eggers[/caption]

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA – Today, July 4, NASA celebrated America’s Independence Day with a spectacular fireworks display of a dynamic duo of sounding rockets – blasting off barely 15 seconds apart this morning from the agencies NASA Wallops Island facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on a science experiment to study the ionosphere.

The goal of the two rocket salvo was an in depth investigation of the electrical currents in Earth’s ionosphere – called the Daytime Dynamo.

The Dynamo electrical current sweeps through the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles that extends from about 30 to 600 miles above Earth.

Disruptions in the ionosphere can scramble radio wave signals for critical communications and navigations transmissions that can impact our every day lives.

The launches suffered multiple delays over the past 2 weeks due to weather, winds, errant boats and unacceptable science conditions in the upper atmosphere.

A Black Brant V launches first in support of Daytime Dynamo. Terroer improved Orion (at right) followed 15 seconds later from NASA Wallops on July 4, 2013. Credit:  NASA/P. Black
A Black Brant V launches first in support of Daytime Dynamo. Terroer improved Orion (at right) followed 15 seconds later from NASA Wallops on July 4, 2013. Credit: NASA/P. Black

At last, the Fourth of July was the irresistible charm.

The liftoff times were 10:31:25 a.m. for the Black Brant V and 10:31:40 a.m. (EDT) for the Terrier-Improved Orion.

The experiment involved launching two suborbital rockets and also dispatching a NASA King Air airplane to collect a stream of airborne science measurements.

Daytime Dynamo is a joint project between NASA and the Japanese Space Agency, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said Robert Pfaff to Universe Today in an exclusive interview inside Mission Control at Wallops. Pfaff is the principle investigator for the Dynamo sounding rocket at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“The dynamo changes during the day and varies with the season,” Pfaff told me.

But they only have one chance to launch. So the science team has to pick the best time to meet the science objectives.

“We would launch every month if we could and had the funding, in order to even more fully characterize the Dynamo.”

Two rocket salvo comprising a Black Brant V (left) and a Terrier-Improved Orion (right) sit ready to launch as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission in this panoramic view from NASA Wallops Flight Facility at Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Credit:  Ken Kremer
Two rocket salvo comprising a Black Brant V (left) and a Terrier-Improved Orion (right) sit ready to launch as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission in this panoramic view from NASA Wallops Flight Facility at Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The 35 foot tall single-stage Black Brant V launched first. It carried a 600 pound payload to collect the baseline data to characterize the neutral and charged ionospheric particles as it blasted skyward.

The 33 foot tall two-stage Terrier-Improved Orion took off just 15 seconds later in the wake of the exhaust of the Black Brant V.

Exhaust trails from Black Brant V and a Terrier-Improved Orion launched in support of Daytime Dynamo mission on July 4, 2013. Credit: NASA P. Black
Exhaust trails from Black Brant V and a Terrier-Improved Orion launched in support of Daytime Dynamo mission on July 4, 2013. Credit: NASA/P. Black

The Terrier-Improved Orion successfully deployed a lengthy trail of lithium gas from a pressurized canister that created a chemical tracer to track how the upper atmospheric winds vary with altitude. These winds are believed to be the drivers of the dynamo currents.

Both rockets fly for about five minutes to an altitude of some 100 miles up in the ionosphere. They both splashed down in the ocean after about 15 minutes.

NASA’s King Air aircraft was essential to the mission. I toured the airplane on the Wallops runway for an up-close look inside. It is outfitted with a bank of precisely aimed analytical instruments peering through the aircraft windows to capture the critical science data – see my photos herein.

“The King Air launches about an hour before the scheduled liftoff time,” Pfaff told me.

“It uses special cameras and filters to collect visible and infrared spectroscopic data from the lithium tracer to characterize the daytime dynamo.”

The science instruments are newly developed technology to make the daytime measurements of the lithium tracer and were jointly created by NASA, JAXA and scientists at Clemson University.

“Everything worked as planned,” Pfaff announced from Wallops Mission Control soon after the magnificent Fourth of July fireworks show this morning.

Ken Kremer

Black Brant V (left) and a Terrier-Improved Orion (right) rockets sit on launch pads as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission in this up close  view from NASA Wallops Flight Facility at Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Black Brant V (left) and Terrier-Improved Orion (right) rockets sit on launch pads as part of the Daytime Dynamo mission in this up close view from NASA Wallops Flight Facility at Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside cabin view of NASA King Air aircraft outfitted with science instrument mounts to support a of cameras to capture visible and infrared spectroscopic measurements in support of Daytime Dynamic launches on July 4, 2013.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside cabin view of NASA King Air aircraft outfitted with science instrument mounts to support a bank of cameras to capture visible and infrared spectroscopic measurements in support of Daytime Dynamic launches on July 4, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Robert Pfaff (right), Science Principle Investigator and Ken Kremer of Universe Today (left) discuss NASA’s Daytime Dynamo mission inside NASA Wallop’s Mission Control.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Robert Pfaff (right), Science Principle Investigator and Ken Kremer of Universe Today (left) discuss NASA’s Daytime Dynamo mission inside NASA Wallop’s Mission Control. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s Daytime Dynamo Experiment Deploys Lithium to Study Global Ionospheric Communications Disruptions

On June 24, 2013 a pair of daytime sounding rockets will launch from NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) and deploy a chemical trail like the one deployed here from a sounding rocket at night. The chemical trail will help researchers track wind movement to determine how it affects the movement of charged particles in the atmosphere. All the colors in the sky shown here, the white and blue streaks, and the larger red blob overhead, are from the chemical trails. Credit: NASA
See Rocket Visibility Maps below[/caption]

NASA WALLOPS, VA – Science and space aficionados are in for rare treat on June 24 when NASA launches a two-rocket salvo from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Va. on a mission to study how charged particles in the ionosphere can disrupt communication signals that impact our day to day lives.

It’s a joint project between NASA and the Japanese Space Agency, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.

The suborbital sounding rockets will blast off merely 15 seconds apart from a beach-side launch complex directly on Virginia’s Eastern shore on a science mission named the Daytime Dynamo.

An electric current called the dynamo, illustrated here, sweeps through Earth’s upper atmosphere. A sounding rocket called Dynamo will launch in the summer of 2013 to study the current, which can disrupt Earth’s communication and navigation signals. Credit: USGS
An electric current called the dynamo, illustrated here, sweeps through Earth’s upper atmosphere.A pair of sounding rockets called Dynamo will launch on June 24, to study the current, which can disrupt Earth’s communication and navigation signals. Credit: USGS
Lithium gas will be deployed from one of the rockets to create a chemical trail that can be used to track upper atmospheric winds that drive the dynamo currents.

The goal is to study the global electrical current called the dynamo, which sweeps through the ionosphere, a layer of charged particles that extends from about 30 to 600 miles above Earth.

Why should you care?

Because disruptions in the ionosphere can scramble radio wave signals for communications and navigations transmissions from senders to receivers – and that can impact our every day lives.

The experiment involves launching a duo of suborbital rockets and also dispatching an airplane to collect airborne science measurements.

Mission control and the science team will have their hands full coordinating the near simultaneous liftoffs of two different rockets with two different payloads while watching the weather to make sure its optimal to collect the right kind of data that will answer the research proposal.

A single-stage Black Brant V will launch first. The 35 foot long rocket will carry a 600 pound payload to collect the baseline data to characterize the neutral and charged particles as it swiftly travels through the ionosphere.

Visibility map for Black Brant V rocket launch on June 24 at 9:30 a.m.  Credit: NASA Wallops
Visibility map for Black Brant V rocket launch on June 24 at 9:30 a.m. Credit: NASA Wallops

A two-stage Terrier-Improved Orion blasts off just 15 seconds later. The 33 foot long rocket carries a canister of lithium gas. It will shoot out a long trail of lithium gas that creates a chemical trail that will be tracked to determine how the upper atmospheric wind varies with altitude. These winds are believed to be the drivers of the dynamo currents.

Visibility map for Terrier-Improved Orion rocket launch on June 24 at 9:30 a.m.  Credit: NASA Wallops
Visibility map for Terrier-Improved Orion rocket launch on June 24 at 9:30 a.m. Credit: NASA Wallops

Both rockets will fly for about five minutes to an altitude of some 100 miles up in the ionosphere.

Since its daytime the lithium trails will be very hard to discern with the naked eye. That’s why NASA is also using a uniquely equipped NASA King Air airplane outfitted with cameras with special new filters optimized to detect the lithium gas and how it is moved by the winds that generate the global electrical current.

The new technology to make the daytime measurements was jointly developed by NASA, JAXA and scientists at Clemson University.

RockOn 2013 University student payload blasts off on June 20,2013 atop a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital rocket from NASA Wallops at Virginia’s eastern shore. Credit: NASA/Chris Perry
RockOn 2013 University student payload blasts off on June 20,2013 atop a NASA Terrier-Improved Orion suborbital rocket from NASA Wallops at Virginia’s eastern shore. Credit: NASA/Chris Perry

Sounding rockets are better suited to conduct these studies of the ionosphere compared to orbiting satellites which fly to high.

“The manner in which neutral and ionized gases interact is a fundamental part of nature,” said Robert Pfaff, the principle investigator for the Dynamo sounding rocket at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“There could very well be a dynamo on other planets. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all huge planets with huge atmospheres and huge magnetic fields. They could be setting up dynamo currents galore.”

The launch window opens at 9:30 a.m. and extends until 11:30 a.m. Back up opportunities are available on June 25 and from June 28 to July 8.

The rockets will be visible to residents in the Wallops region – and also beyond to the US East Coast from parts of North Carolina to New Jersey.

The NASA Wallops Visitor Center will open at 8 a.m. on launch day for viewing the launches.

Live coverage of the June 24 launch is available via NASA Wallops UStream beginning at 8:30 a.m. at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-tv-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. Launch: Nov. 18, 2013

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Earth, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE, Sounding rockets and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming presentation

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

Show here are the two types of sounding rockets that will launch on June 24, 2013 from NASA Wallops Island, VA., on the Daytime Dynamo mission. Black Brant V rocket is horizontal. Terrier-Improved Orion rocket is vertical. Credit: Ken Kremer
Show here are the two types of sounding rockets that will launch on June 24, 2013 from NASA Wallops Island, VA., on the Daytime Dynamo mission. Black Brant V rocket is horizontal. Terrier-Improved Orion rocket is vertical. 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

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)

Barnstorming the Suborbital Science Frontier

Who will really open up the space frontier? Just like the early days of airplanes, when ‘barnstormers’ traveled the country selling rides to the public, commercial space companies see the market as ripe with excited people who want to hitch a ride. In this video, scientists Alan Stern and Dan Durda describe the coming era of suborbital spaceflight and how it will open up great possibilities for researchers, educators, and the public beginning, perhaps, later this year.

“In all the 50 years of human spaceflight, there have been barely 500 people who’ve been launched into space,” says Stern. “We’re talking about launching thousands if not tens of thousands of space tourists every year and then researchers.”

Anyone else besides me want to hitch a ride?

NASA to Invest $75 Million for Suborbital Science Flights

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NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced today the space agency will fund dozens of science and education payloads to fly on commercial suborbital vehicles. If the 2011 budget proposed by President Obama passes, NASA will commit $75 million in funding over five years for the new Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research program (CRuSR). “For everyone who has dreamed of participating in the grand adventure of spaceflight, this $75 million commitment marks the dawn of a new space age,” said Alan Stern chair of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (SARG) and former NASA associate administrator for science. “As the commercial space industry continues to grow, I expect that we will see increasing numbers of payloads and people flying to space.”

Garver made the announcement at the first annual Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Boulder, Colorado. Money for payloads means money available for companies like Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR Aerospace.

“We are thrilled to see NASA recognizing the enormous potential of new commercial vehicles for science, research, and education,” said Mark Sirangelo, Chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “NASA Deputy Administrator Garver’s announcement today means that hundreds of scientists, educators, and students will be able to fly payloads on these new commercial vehicles.”

NASA is proposing to spend $15 million in each of five years from 2011-2015 for the CRuSR program, funds that will both go to universities and other research institutions to build science and education payloads, as well as being used to purchase flights on commercial suborbital vehicles.

“Since this new generation of commercial vehicles are low cost, NASA’s $75 million will open the floodgates for everyone from astronomers to high school classrooms to conduct real science in space,” said STern. “This will be one of the best investments NASA has ever made.”

Source: Commercial Spaceflight Federation

Scientists Get Ready for Suborbital Flights

Researchers hoping to conduct scientific experiments on commercial suborbital spacecraft completed the first-ever round of training last week at the National Aerospace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center in Pennsylvania. The researchers hope to take advantage of the prospect of quick, low-cost and frequent access to the microgravity environment of suborbital space. They successfully went through full-flight simulation spins in a centrifuge and altitude chamber to simulate the physiological conditions that scientist-astronauts will experience during future missions to 100 km or more altitude. Additionally, they received training on how to best accomplish their science goals in the short 4-6 minute window of zero-g in an actual suborbital flight.

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“Man, that NASTAR centrifuge was a kick!” said Dr. Alan Stern via Twitter following his turn in the multi-axis centrifuge. Stern is the chairman of SARG and a principal organizer of the scientist training program. “At 6 G’s you really feel like you’re hauling the mail. I can’t wait to fly a couple of flights to 130 km!”

The group consisted of 11 scientists, including graduate students, professors and researchers. “It was a great group; a really diverse group of researchers from planetary sciences, life sciences and space sciences,” said Erika Wagner, member of SARG – the Suborbital Applications Researcher Group.

Wagner said the training confirmed the growing interest in conducting research and education missions aboard commercial suborbital spacecraft.

“It was wonderful to see such a great show of interest from the science community,” Wagner told Universe Today. “When we first started this about a year ago, we heard some comments that there would be no interest in this. But the second class is already full and the third class is starting to fill up.”

Stern said the scientists invested their own time and money for the training, adding, “This is a true testament to the growing excitement behind the science potential of new commercial spacecraft.”

The training simulated rides aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, and the first day of the two-day regimen focused on altitude physiology and the challenges of decompression and spatial disorientation. The second day covered acceleration physiology and how to deal with increased G-forces.

“I think the training itself really made it real for us,” Wagner said. “We’ve been talking about suborbital science for over a year, and up until now it has been a sort of abstract thing. To suddenly be able to work out the details of how an experiment will actually work during a suborbital flight is very important.”

Erika Wagner, Alan Stern, and Dan Durda. Credit: OnOrbit.com

Wagner said some of the attendees had previously participated in parabolic airplane flights, like the “Vomit Comet” where researchers have 15-25 seconds of time in microgravity to do the experiments. “They were able to see the similarities and differences much more clearly,” she said. “The great thing about suborbital is you get this nice extended time of zero g, 4-6 minutes depending on the provider. But the challenge is that you only get one shot per flight, whereas in a parabolic flight, although the time is shorter, you get several attempts.”

Wagner said perhaps the best training was how to use your time most efficiently.

“You’ve got to be ready to deal with the acceleration challenges of launch and not be surprised by them, and be prepared for the challenges of getting out of your seat, unstowing your equipment and conducting an experiment in what may be a somewhat chaotic environment,” she said. “If you’ve never thought about those details before you fly, you’re not going to get very good quality science. But I think NASTAR has done a good job of making it clear to the investigators that you really want to maximize your science.”

Therefore, the most important part of the training was the least ‘flashy,’ Wagner said. “We did an exercise ‘Distraction Factors,’ which simulated the amount of space you’ll have to do your experiment, giving you five minutes to get out of your chair, gather your materials, conduct your experiment, put everything away and get back in your seat while everyone else is doing very different things around you, and then prepare for reentry. It wasn’t flashy but it highlighted the challenges of doing quality science. And also it challenges investigators to develop more efficient experiments.”

Keith Cowing from OnOrbit.com, standing in front of the 25 foot centrifuge

Wagner said the most humorous, albeit sobering part of this training is that when they completed the exercise, the instructor asked them if they had seen what was on the wall. “We all said, ‘What? What wall?’ It turns out they had been showing beautiful images of the Earth and space on a huge wall to simulate what we would see from space, and none of us had any clue they had done that because we were so focused on getting the task done. That highlighted for us the amount of attention and practice it is going to take for us to do an experiment in a four minute period. Plus you’ll want to take time to enjoy the experience.”

SARG is sponsoring the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference on February 18-20, 2010, in Boulder, Colorado where scientists, engineers, educators, and vehicle developers will gather to discuss the research and education benefits of new commercial suborbital spacecraft. Associate NASA Administrator Lori Garver will be the keynote speaker.

“We want to inform researchers on this opportunity,” Wagner said,”and find out how they want to use the vehicles and any constraints they might have, and feed that back to the vehicle designers and flight providers.”

For more information:

SARG and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation
More pictures of the training from OnOrbit.com
Joe Hill’s blog describing his experience at the NASTAR training
Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference