Space Weatherrocket ready for launch
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Geomagnetic activity and viewing conditions at Longyearbyen tracking station were favorable yesterday, but high winds at Andoya Rocket Range again kept CAPER on the ground. 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 an Andoya scientist 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)
Scientists plan Arctic CAPER to study space weather
"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."
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 is anxious to start the countdown and then launch over an aurora arc. Data from instruments on the ground and on the Polar satellite are used to determine when conditions are right. When CAPER finally takes off it will soar to an apex of about 1,400 km (828 mi) in its 25-minute flight.
"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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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
"It's the only place where solar wind particles can directly enter Earth's ionosphere," Coffey explained.
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.
External link: Andoya Rocket Range news and information
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Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack