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Arctic CAPER still standing by for launch

Rocket will study space weather effects

Update, Jan. 19, 1999: Geomagnetic activity and viewing conditions at Longyearbyen tracking station were favorable, but high winds at Andoya Rocket Range again kept the Cleft Accelerated Plasma Experimental Rocket (CAPER) on the ground. The forecast for Wednesday morning is rising temperatures with clouds building.

Plunging temperatures and clear skies had been forecast, giving scientists some hope that they will at last be able to launch.

Earthly weather has held CAPER on the ground in Norway since it was readied a week ago.

Right: The camera freezes snow in midair as Svein Sæther, one of the Andoya technicians, prepares to launch a weather balloon that will tell if conditions aloft are safe to launch the rocket. More photos and current status reports are available at the Andoya Rocket Range. (All photos: Andoya Rocket Range)

"The weather [at the tracking station at Longyearbyen] has become challenging with high winds and fresh snow producing snow drifts that slowly snake across the valley like mute ghosts condemned to wander eternally," Dr. Paul Kintner of Cornell University, CAPER's principal investigator, wrote on Saturday.

"Both of our 4-wheel drive vehicles were stuck in the snow during our trip to the station. One still remains stuck as the [launch] window closes.... Visibility is zero within a few meters of the ground and during the drive out to the Nordlysstajonen occasionally the road could only be seen by opening the car door and looking down."

On Saturday, auroral conditions were very active with a series of substorms, but winds at Andoya Rocket Range reached gale force - 48-64 km/h (30-40 mph) - making safe launch conditions unlikely. Since the possibility of launch was estimated to be poor, the window was closed early to let the rocket team rest.

On Sunday, launch conditions were favorable from the space weather viewpoint but local weather prohibited launching without loss of ground based optical observations and imaging as well as the increased risk from not personally observing the aurora. Auroral conditions were quiet with some small substorm activity overnight. The solar wind magnetic field was variable with no clear  trends. The winds at Andoya Rocket Range were calm, but Longyearbyen was overcast with snow, blowing snow, drifting snow and low visibility.

Although CAPER has been ready since Jan. 11, launch has been postponed each evening because the right science conditions were not available, or because of weather. The CAPER team will continue to study and hope between the hours of 0400-0900 UT (9 p.m.-2 a.m., CST) each day until Jan. 26 for an opportunity to start the countdown and then launch over an aurora arc. The end of the daily launch window is set by a science criteria in which the scientists don't want the launch to be too close to noon magnetic local time. Data from instruments on the ground and on the Polar satellite are used to determine when conditions are right.

CAPER will carry one of the most complex instrument packages ever launched into the region where the Earth's atmosphere is directly exposed to space. It will reach at apex of about 1,400 km (828 mi) in its 25-minute flight.

The CAPER science team reported Wednesday that auroral conditions were mostly quiet with some activity between Longyearbyen and the north coast of Norway. The weather at Andoya Rocket Range was too windy for launch for most of the window. The payload was elevated only briefly for vertical checks and then held in the horizontal position, protected from the wind, until the launch window closed.

Left: Dr. John Rudzki examines a strip-chart recorder's outputy displaying ionsopheric conditions.

The weather at Longyearbyen has been unseasonably warm at 0 C (32 F) and cloudy. Occasional stars could be seen and there was a hole in the clouds lasting about one hour. The auroral conditions were active but mostly too far south for the CAPER trajectory. The solar wind magnetic field was mostly southward driving the auroral oval equatorward.

"The rocket motors and the payload have been assembled and mounted on the U3 launcher," according to officials at the Andoya Rocket Range at the Arctic Circle at Andoya, Norway. "A practice countdown was successfully conducted (Tuesday) morning," the Andoya team reports on their web page. Earlier the team reported that the rocket motors and the payload had been assembled and mounted on the U3 launcher, and held a practice countdown.

"We're studying a region that is believed to provide the majority of the mass that makes up the magnetosphere," said Victoria Coffey, a scientist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Coffey is the experiment scientist for two CAPER instruments, TECHS (the Thermal Electron Capped Hemisphere Spectrometer) and TICHS (the Thermal Ion Capped Hemisphere Spectrometer).

An initial study was made by SCIFER - the Sounding of the Cleft Ion Fountain Energization Region - on Jan. 25, 1995. It showed that plasmas (electrified gases) are accelerated to energies of a few hundred electron volts in a few well-defined regions of the cleft or cusp.

 
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However, the Earth is exposed to space at the north and south magnetic poles where the magnetic field lines are open to space because of their dipole (two-pole) shape.

Left: A keogram depicts auroral conditions over the Longyearbyen tracking station north of Andoya. Keograms take strip images of the aurora, as seen by all-sky cameras, and stack them side-by-side to depict changes over time (left to right). Keogram is derived from keoitt, old Eskimo for aurora. Links to 640x480-pixel, 101K GIF.

"It's the only place where solar wind particles can directly enter Earth's ionosphere," Coffey explained.

Be sure to read Plasma scientists plan polar CAPER to study auroral ion fountain (Jan. 7).

An old Nike Cajun sound rocket stands guard at the main complex at Andoya.

 

Web Links

Solar wind blows some of Earth's atmosphere into space. Dec. 8, 1998. Polar spacecraft measures "auroral fountain" flowing out as solar wind flows in.
Earth weaves its own invisible cloak. Dec. 9, 1997.Polar fountains fill magnetosphere with ions.
Plasmas can't hide from neutralized TIDE. Nov. 20, 1996.
SCIFER's 1995 flight set the stage for CAPER.
SpaceWeather.com daily forecasts of solar activity and current geomagnetic conditions.

External link: Andoya Rocket Range news and information

Earlier pictures

CAPER stands ready on the launch rail at Andoya.A member of the team fixes "cancellation waffles" for the est of the CAPER crew.

In a composite image, an Andoya scientist checks the all-sky camera that is part of the instrumentation used to monitor conditions for launch. More photos and current status reports are available at the Andoya Rocket Range. (All photos: Andoya Rocket Range)An artist's concept depicts the planned trajectory of CAPER from Andoya, Norway, to the polar ice cap. Links to 984x768-pixel, 72K JPG. More photos and current status reports are available at the Andoya Rocket Range. (All photos: Andoya Rocket Range)

black brant in the snow

It's still a long haul from Santa's workshop, but the weather's just as cold. On Sunday, Andoya technicians tow the Black Brant XII second stage from the integration building to the sheltered launch pad where the stages and payload are assembled.An Andoya Rocket Range official checks conditions from the relative warmth of the launch control center.

CAPER payload before nose cone installed

Above: Details of the CAPER payload can be seen shortly before the protective nose cone was placed over it. The blue circle highlights the TECHS sensor head that will deploy outward on a boom once CAPER is soaring above Earth's atmosphere.

Above: Technicians attach foam insulation that will keep the Black Brant XII's solid propellants from freezing.

CAPER payload atop Black Brant

Left: Technicians at the Andoya Rocket Range attach the CAPER payload to the top of the 4-stage Black Brant XII suborbital rocket.

Right: Looking like a strange artillery piece, CAPER's Black Brant XII is is concealed inside foam insulation that protects it from the Norwegian winter. The foam will shatter and fall off at liftoff.

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Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: Gregory S. Wilson