Donald Savage Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

January 26, 1994 (Phone: 202/358-1547) Keith Koehler Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va. (Phone: 804/824-1579) Release: 94-12 NASA Studying Auroras Over Alaska Using Suborbital Rockets NASA and an international group of scientists will conduct an extensive study of auroras over Alaska using suborbital rockets and ground instruments during late January through March 1994, NASA officials announced today. During this period, NASA will launch eight sounding rockets from the Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks, Alaska, to study the composition of auroras and their effects on the surrounding atmosphere. The launch window for the first launch opens beginning Thursday, Jan. 27. Auroras, or "Northern Lights," are a result of the interaction of charged particles from the sun with the Earth's magnetic field in the upper atmosphere. These energized particles excite the gases present in the upper atmosphere, causing them to emit light that is called the aurora. However, the acceleration process that energizes these particles is not thoroughly understood, according to Dr. Roy Torbert from the University of New Hampshire and principal investigator of one of the missions. These sounding rocket missions will allow scientists to take in-situ measurements (fly their experiments through the auroras) to gain a better understanding of this phenomena.

Also, studying the auroras will help scientists understand the relationship of this interaction of the sun's energy with the Earth's upper atmosphere, according to Torbert. Torbert's flight uses one of the most sophisticated payloads to fly on a NASA sounding rocket. The 21-foot (6.4 meter) long payload, called the Auroral Turbulence Rocket, includes 28 instruments and consists of a main payload and two subpayloads. - more -2The two subpayloads will be deployed from the main payload in space. Simultaneous measurements from the three spacecraft will allow Torbert and his team to study the variations, in space and time, of the plasma physical properties occurring within and around an aurora. Data will be gathered over 9 minutes of the approximately 12- minute flight. The eight missions will be conducted using two-, three- and four-stage solid-fueled rockets. The unguided rockets, which range in length from 36 feet (11 meters) to 73 feet (22 meters), will carry their payloads to altitudes from 55 miles (88 kilometers) to 287 miles (462 kilometers). The Alaska missions are just eight of nearly 50 missions scheduled worldwide through September 1994 by the NASA Sounding Rocket Program. The projects are managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., for the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. - end -