ATREX Woes at Wallops

Last night NASA decided to delay their Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) launch yet again.  I’m personally beginning to get sick of hearing this over and over again.  The rocket experiment which is going to eventually launch from NASA’s Wallops Island, VA facility has been delayed due to poor weather three times now.  The plan is for five sounding rockets to launch in rapid succession to just shy of 65 miles which is the recognized edge of space to study the mysterious ultra high altitude winds that can reach 200-300 miles per hour.  Each rocket will release a tracer chemical that can be observed by ground-based observers and cameras.  The chemical, trimethylaluminum, for lack of better word, will glow in the atmosphere and the cameras can observe how the winds swirl it around.  The only trick is that the launch must happen on a clear night.  Not just a clear night in Wallops Island, but a clear night at the observation sites in North Carolina and New Jersey as well.  This has proved complicated as you could expect.  The original launch date was March 14th but bad weather at Wallops delayed the launch by a couple days.  The second launch was also delayed due to poor conditions and NASA set a third window for last night from 12am – 3am EDT.  The skies were clear at Wallops but New Jersey was cloudy.

I was originally excited by the launch because NASA widely publicized the visibility of the tracer chemical from Massachusetts to North Carolina.  But after three unsuccessful launch windows I’ve pretty much given up on this mission and my hopes of seeing it.  I stayed up last night watching Apollo 13 and listening to the webcast stream from the launch pad and after they said they were “red” for at least an hour and a half around 1:30 I shut the computer and went to bed frustrated.  I understand that this method of experimentation is probably the lowest cost option but the launch window only extends until April 3rd, which is only another ten days.  They’re ten days into the window and they’ve had rotten luck so far.  If I’m frustrated with the experiment I’m sure the folks at NASA are too, if not more so.  The next attempt at a launch will be no sooner than Sunday night 3/25, and if that doesn’t work out then they’ve only got a week to launch these birds.  If you still want to follow this mission, visit the NASA/ATREX website.  Happy Friday and clear skies!

About Tim

My name is Tim Phelan. I am a nerd, amateur astronomer, sports nut, and follower of Jesus. I live in Baltimore, MD where the skies are oh so polluted with light. This is Ravens Country, Birdland, and the City that Reads, or whatever. Follow me on and

Posted on March 23, 2012, in NASA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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