Rocket Man

Rocket Man

Top image: Jøran Moen, professor at University of Oslo and adjunct professor at UNIS.

Adjunct Professor Jøran Moen is about to send up 10 million NOK into the atmosphere. The rocket’s name is ICI-2 and its mission is to uncover more of the secrets of the Aurora Borealis. Why? Because the aurora can cause electronic communication systems to be wiped out.

27 November 2008
Text: Eva Therese Jenssen

The name of the rocket is ICI-2, it is 9 meter long, and it can reach a height of 350 km. The mission of the rocket is to fly through the Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, in order to uncover more of its secrets.

The name of the man is Jøran Moen, professor in plasma- and space physics at the University in Oslo and adjunct professor at UNIS.

The rocket campaign starts tomorrow, November 28th and is to end on December 7th. In this period the scientists have a window of opportunity of launching the rocket in just a couple of hours in the mornings, from 08:00 until 12:00 noon local time.

First time ever
The rocket will be launched from Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard and will hopefully reach about 350 km into the atmosphere, fly through the northern lights and by the end, after approximately 10 minutes, it will crash into the ocean. This is the first time ever a rocket has been optimized with an instrumentation to resolve the finest thinkable structures within an auroral arc.

– The aim of the campaign is to get more accurate data on the finer structures of the aurora, says Moen. – If we can uncover these secrets we can understand more about the aurora’s effect on measurement instruments which communicates with satellites, such as GPS (Global Positioning System).

When there is great northern lights activity, airplanes flying over the polar area can risk losing radio contact because of the space interference. A possible wipe-out of radio contact and GPS functions can pose dangerous situations also on land and out at sea, and the scientists wants to understand more about the structures in the aurora in order to give a better prediction about when the aurora activity will be at a high level.

Solar winds
The aurora is a product of the Sun. Explosions on the Sun’s surface result in solar winds, where highly charged electrons and protons are “thrown” into space and towards the Earth’s magnetosphere or magnetic shield.

Associated with this precipitation of electrons and protons are current systems, electric fields, ion flow channels, waves etc. When these particles hit the magnetic shield, the energy produced results in bands of red, green and white light: Aurora Borealis.

The ICI-2 rocket is one in a series of rockets that will be needed to establish a physical description of the problem, and this piece of knowledge will be essential in order to obtain improved space weather models for the ionosphere. This is going to be of particularly useful for offshore activities in the open ocean in the Barents Sea, as the requirement for high precision and reliability increases with the number of applications.

Closely monitored
Svalbard is the only place in the world where the scientists can study daytime aurora by optics, radars and rockets simultaneously. Moen is working closely with EISCAT and the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) in Longyearbyen in this rocket campaign.

– Both EISCAT and KHO will run around-the-clock operations in order to predict at what time the conditions are perfect for launching the ICI-2. In addition, measurement instruments in Ny-Ålesund, one radar in Finland and one in Iceland will also be operational in order to make sure that we will know the best time for launching the rocket, Moen says.

The rocket campaign is funded by the Research Council of Norway. Other contributors are: University of Oslo; University of Bergen; ISAS/JAXA, Japan; and Andøya Rocket Range (rocket payload). Ground base support is provided by University of Oslo, UNIS/KHO; EISCAT; NIPR-Japan; University of Leicester, UK; Universitè Joseph Fourier, Grenoble; and the Norwegian Polar Institute in Ny-Ålesund.

Professor Jøran Moen and engineers Eystein Sæther, Lars-Helge Surdal and Gudmund Hansen.

Professor Jøran Moen and engineers Eystein Sæther, Lars-Helge Surdal and Gudmund Hansen, with modules of the ICI-2 rocket.

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