Three rockets launched early Friday

Release Date: 
Friday, March 15, 2002


The last three rockets of a four-part rocket experiment successfully launched from Poker Flat Research Range early Friday morning.  The first rocket of the experiment was launched March 7th, and the final three launched Friday at 2:15 a.m., 4:03 a.m. and 4:42 a.m.

The relatively small Orion rockets have captured information on the characteristics of meteoric dust in the area of Earth’s atmosphere called the mesosphere. Each rocket payload contained an instrument called a dust detector, which was used to measure small, nanometer-sized particles.  The four rockets were blasted into different types of mesospheric conditions, allowing for multiple measurements of the structure of mesospheric dust layers.   

Principal Investigator Kristina Lynch of the Institute for the Study of Earth Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire in Durham lead a team of scientists from several institutions, including Dr. Richard Collins of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. 

Dr. Collins and his students monitored mesospheric conditions with ground-based instruments at the Geophysical Institute’s Lidar Observatory.  The lidar is an instrument similar in principle to radar, but uses a laser instead of radio waves.  Laser light aimed into the sky is scattered back by fine particles, atoms, and molecules at various heights.  The information gathered by the lidar helped Dr. Lynch determine when the atmospheric conditions were right to launch. 

The study of mesospheric dust populations is a relatively new field.  According to Dr. Lynch, very little is known about the evolution, dynamics, or morphology of these dust layers.  One reason these particles have remained unmeasured for so long is that dust in the mesosphere is very difficult to observe.  Most knowledge on the subject has been generated from ground-based remote sensing and from a recent Norwegian rocket campaign. 

New developments in rocket technology allowed Dr. Lynch to obtain measurements of these fine dust particles, which will assist in the understanding of chemistry and physics in the mesosphere.  

Poker Flat Research Range is owned by the University of Alaska and operated by the Geophysical Institute under contract to NASA.