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Rocket launch scheduled Tuesday at Wallops Flight Facility

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A rocket testing technology for gathering scientific data is scheduled for launch on Tuesday at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

During the suborbital flight of the Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket, two red-colored lithium vapor trails will occur in space that may be seen throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Cameras at Wallops and on a NASA aircraft will track the red trails.

“This launch is a technology test flight for two upcoming missions,” Libby West, mission project manager with the NASA Sounding Rocket Program Office at Wallops, said in a statement. “We will be testing two different methods for creating the lithium vapor to determine which configuration is best for observing various science phenomena in space.”

Data from the test will be used during future NASA projects. The launch will take place between 5:30 and 6:50 p.m. on Tuesday.

NASA has two missions later this year that will use the lithium trails to assist scientists in observing events in space. The first is scheduled for April in the central Pacific Ocean from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and the second will occur in June at Wallops.

In the technology test launch, two canisters in the rocket’s payload section will contain solid metal lithium rods or chips embedded in a thermite cake. The thermite is ignited and produces heat to vaporize the lithium. The vapor is released in space where it can be detected and tracked.

During the flight, one vapor trail will occur at an altitude of approximately 72 miles and the second will occur at around 78 miles.

The backup launch days for the project are Jan. 30 through Feb.1.

The NASA Visitor Center at Wallops will be open on for viewing the launch.


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