During mid-morning on some day in late November or early December of 2014, a 21-meter high sounding rocket will launch from Andoya Space Center, heading out over the Greenland Sea. Ten minutes later, skies southwest of Longyearbyen will light up with 24 bright, colorful, glowing clouds. The "Black Brant-12" rocket has been built by NASA specifically to disperse these clouds, across a location about 500 km southwest of Longyearbyen, at altitudes in Earth's thermosphere varying from 150 to 400 kilometers. For observers on Svalbard the clouds will be impossible to miss, glowing brightly and filling a large swathe of the sky. They will be photographed by observers stationed at the Unis Kjell Hendriksen Observatory in Longyearbyen, the NIPR Rabben Observatory in Ny Alesund, and aboard a NASA twin-engined turboprop aircraft. The images will be used to triangulate the three-dimensional position and motion of each cloud, in order to measure winds and electric fields in the thermospheric region that is exposed to Earth's geomagnetic cusp. For reasons that are currently not understood, there is a permanent density increase in this part of Earth's thermosphere, which is expected to cause small but important and currently unpredictable perturbations to the orbits of spacecraft flying through it. By measuring winds and ion motion at multiple locations inside the density enhancement, we hope to understand the flows that are responsible for creating and sustaining it. The project is funded by NASA, with international participants from the USA, UK, Norway, and Japan.
(For those who are interested, NASA has more detailed information on the vapor tracer technique here.)
November 24 - Launch day?
LAUNCHED! - We successfully launched the C-REX mission today at 08:05 UT. All 24 sub-payloads ejected successfully, although we only saw 10 or 11 releases. Nevertheless, the releases we did see were excellent, and we are very confident that we'll get great data. The team are very pleased - thanks to absolutely everyone who joined in!
08:37 local: Some cloud at Longyearbyen, but Ny Alesund remains clear. Launch probability remains greater than 95%.
07:54 local: Conditions continue to be GO everywhere. I have just asked our pilots to take off, which they should do in another 5 - 10 minutes. Currently we're assessing the likelihood of a launch today at more than 90%.
04:41 local: Conditions are looking very good. Skies at Longyearbyen are variable, sometimes very good, sometimes overcast. But they're improving with time. Ny Alesund has been completely clear for the last hour. Winds and cloud ceiling at Andoya are good. Right now we have GO conditions! If this continues, we will launch at 09:05 local time on Svalbard, with the first clouds appearing at 09:15.
November 23 - Hot Tomorrow!
We have our rocket boxed and it's being armed right now (Noon Sunday). We just finished a smooth practice count, so all is now ready at Andoya. The forecasts for tomorrow are looking promising. So Monday morning November 24 is looking very promising. Our launch window opens at 08:05 UT, which is 09:05 local time. The nominal time of the first appearance of tracer clouds would be 09:15 local.
Unfortunately, we learned today that C-REX will NOT be ready to launch tomorrow (Sunday Nov 23). We still have several hours of work boxing the payload and finalizing procedures. This is not a huge loss, as the weather forecast for Nov 23 isn't very good. However we should be ready for Monday, and in that case the forecast is much better.
Today we moved forward according to our latest schedule. The complete vehicle and payload were mounted on the launcher, umbilicals were rigged, and turn-on tests completed. Tomorrow (Saturday) will be spent enclosing the rocket in an insulating foam box to protect it from cold while it's elevated for launch. We remain on-track for Sunday morning to be our first day of counting.
November 20 - Projected Schedule
Nov 21: Move payload to motor assembly and mate with Nihka, stage payload/Nihka on launcher, rig umbilicals.
Nov 22: Finish boxing vehicle/payload.
Nov 23: Vertical check, practice count, live window opens !
Note: This is only the projected schedule - things could and likely will change.
Today we finished loading the last of the vapor tracer canisters. Based on the time when this was completed, I doubt that we'll get all of them mated to their electronics/motor stages and mounted in the payload today. But hopefully it will be done early tomorrow. We had also planned to do a test flight with the King Air plane at the predicted launch window time today - but we discovered the runway was closed for snow clearing right at our designated takeoff time! We have made requests that should avoid this conflict in future.
Great progress today! At Andoya, we got the first 12 of our vapor tracer canisters loaded, mated to the sub-payload sections that carry the electronics and small rocket motors, and we completed installing these assemblies in their launch tubes aboard the main rocket. Meanwhile, at Longyearbyen, we mounted cameras in the King Air plane, and did some essential maintenance on it. Finally, our ground observers in Longyearbyen received training in polar bear safety from UNIS.
We received 6 fresh bottles of lab grade argon at Andoya today, which means that loading of the vapor tracer canisters can commence tomorrow. Based on the remaining tasks to prepare the launch vehicle, our current best estimate is the we may be able to start counting for a launch as early as Friday (Nov 21) or, more realistically, on Saturday.
Mark, Dennis, and Todd flew the King Air aircraft from Andenes to Longyearbyen. At the launch range, we have almost completed outgassing and purging of the chamber that is used to load the vapor tracers; loading will hopefully commence tomorrow. The remainder of the crew had a rest day today.
Great news - Mark, Dennis, and Todd arrived at Andenes with the NASA King Air aircraft at 1pm local time today. Also, equipment for loading the tracer canisters now appears to be functioning correctly, so loading will likely commence tomorrow or Monday.
Today our observers flew up to Ny Alesund and began setting up our camera site there. All went well. At Andoya we encountered some problems that will delay loading of the tracer canisters by a day or two. The NASA King Air plane left Reykjavík Iceland, and is expected to arrive in Bergen this evening.
The main payload is now fully assembled at Andoya, and ACS phasing checks have been completed successfully. Preparation of the motor stages is continuing. We started installing cameras at KHO yesterday, and this effort will continue through into next week.
1:30 AM in Longyearbyen: A few minutes ago I received word from our Chief Pilot, Mark, that he, Dennis, and Todd arrived safely in Goose Bay Canada today. All are well. At Andoya, the main payload is now fully assembled and awaiting sub-payloads to be installed. The second-stage motor is almost ready to mount onto the launcher.
The NASA B-200 aircraft and crew left Wallops Island at 12:35 EST today to start their long transit to Longyearbyen - good luck guys! Also, six observers arrived in Longyearbyen today: Don, Patti, Manbharat, Andrew, Jason, and Jonathan.
Most of our observers are now in Oslo and Tromso, on their way to Svalbard. The vapor tracer crew from Clemson arrived at Andoya. Our Japanese colleagues will be heading up in two days time. A NASA crew has arrived in Tromso to setup a telemetry station there. The first rocket motor stage was loaded onto our launcher. The second stage and spin motors are being prepared also. Flight preparations for the attitude control system were completed.
The C-REX web page is now live.
14 large crates of UAF camera gear arrived at UNIS after traveling from Alaska.
11 large crates of Clemson camera gear arrived at Longyearbyen airport after traveling from Andoya. Fred and I took them up to KHO using the UNIS Hagglund.
PI Mark Conde presented an overview of the C-REX mission during a lunchtime seminar at UNIS.
Our NASA crew arrived at the launch range at Andoya Space Center to begin assembling the rocket and preparing it for launch.
|C-REX Sounding Rocket Mission|
C-REX Sounding Rocket Mission
C-REX is a NASA sounding rocket mission that released a large constellation of artificial clouds into the ionosphere above the Greenland Sea, in order to measure winds at the edge of space. People on Svalbard had a front-row seat for this spectacular event.