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The waiting game

02.12.10

These days the aurora scientists at UNIS are busy preparing for a rocket campaign. The rocket will fly into the magnetic cusp, above the aurora that appears over Svalbard during daytime. Its mission is to collect data on the state of the atmosphere during a dayside aurora outburst. Now they just await the optimal launch conditions.

Text: Eva Therese Jenssen

Rocket Experiment for Neutral Upwelling, or RENU, is a sounding rocket mission designed to investigate neutral upwelling in the magnetic cusp. A natural upwelling happens in the neutral part of the atmosphere when there is auroral activity. The aurora causes the atmosphere to warm up and a neutral upwelling is neutral gases that transpire in the atmosphere. One could say that the atmosphere is “sweating”.

This event has never been measured in the atmosphere – but now the scientists hope that the rocket campaign can give some answers about what actually happens during a neutral upwelling.

The scientific team behind this rocket campaign is lead by Dr. Marc Lessard, from the University of New Hampshire. Together with scientists from the UNIS Arctic geophysics department and Andøya Rocket Range, he is monitoring the auroral activity over Svalbard closely to detect the best time for a rocket launch. The campaign is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

12 minutes
The RENU rocket will be launched from Andøya Rocket Range at the Norwegian mainland. The rocket, which is over 20 meters long, will fly at approximately 500 kilometers height from Andøya to Svalbard, which is situated right under the magnetic cusp, says Professor Fred Sigernes, chief of the UNIS aurora station, The Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO).

 

The RENU rocket will launch from Andøya and will reach maximum height of 500 kilometers above Svalbard. (Image: Trond Abrahamsen/Andøya Rocket Range).
The RENU rocket will launch from Andøya and will reach maximum height of 500 kilometers above Svalbard. (Image: Trond Abrahamsen/Andøya Rocket Range).

- The estimated flight time is 12-13 minutes. Nine minutes after the launch the rocket will have reached Svalbard, and literally fly through the aurora in the magnetic cusp, Professor Dag Lorentzen explains.

The rocket will land into the Polar Ocean north of Svalbard. By then, the scientists hope the instruments on the rocket have collected data while traversing the magnetic cusp, which will help us understand the nature behind a neutral upwelling.

The rocket is tracked closely from Svalbard. Scientists from NASA are located at the SVALSAT satellite station in Longyearbyen. On the other side of town, up on the Mine 7 Mountain, Sigernes, Lorentzen and Dr. Margit Dyrland at KHO are keeping an eye on the auroral activity above Svalbard to predict the best time for a rocket launch. At the EISCAT radar station, professor Kjellmar Oksavik is monitoring the gas upwelling closely.

A mission of patience
Launching a rocket is a task of patience. The campaign has a time frame from November 28 through December 12. The window of opportunity each day is between 4 AM until 10 AM.

It is not easy to get the right launch conditions. The weather at the rocket range in Andøya, aurora activity over Svalbard and gas transpiration, are all factors that determine whether the rocket can be launched.

- The last couple of days there have been some technical problems with the instrument payload on the rocket, but these are fixed, so now we just wait for the optimal conditions for a launch, says Sigernes.

The RENU campaign has a mission blog where you can follow the campaign from day to day:

 

The Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) is the headquarters for ground-based measurements during the rocket launch. (Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen).
The Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) is the headquarters for ground-based measurements during the rocket launch. (Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen).


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