Wallops rocket launch scrubbed again

NASA scrubbed another launch attempted of a Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket from Wallops Flight Facility on Tuesday night.

The launch had already been delayed several times previously.

The Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket isn’t even the coolest part of the mission.

Four to five minutes after launch, the rocket is expected to deploy 10 canisters about the size of soft drink cans, each containing a colored vapor that forms artificial, luminescent clouds.

The clouds, or vapor tracers, are formed “through the interaction of barium, strontium, and cupric-oxide,” according to NASA.

Since the canisters will be released about 100 miles (160 kilometers) above the ground, the space agency says they “pose absolutely no hazard to residents along the mid-Atlantic coast.” Sounding rockets have been used for more than 40 years to carry science payloads on missions that last just five to 20 minutes.

The vapor tracers will allow scientists on the ground to view the movement of the particles in the ionosphere, a part of the Earth’s atmosphere that stretches to the edge of space, to learn more about the movement of the air currents at that altitude.

The whole mission will last only about eight minutes before the payload lands in the Atlantic Ocean, about 90 miles out to sea from its launch point in Virginia.

“The vapor tracers could be visible from New York to North Carolina and westward to Charlottesville, Virginia,” NASA said.

If you’re near the eastern US coast, look toward the eastern horizon. The farther you are from the launch location, the lower the clouds will appear on the horizon.

If you are north of the launch site — say, in Washington, Philadelphia or New York — the clouds will appear in the lower southeastern sky. If you are to the south — in Norfolk, Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks of North Carolina — look toward the northeastern horizon. Richmond and Charlottesville residents should be able to see the clouds directly to the east.