The rocket is launched!

The rocket is launched!

Top image: The ICI-2 rocket sets off from its launch pad in Ny-Ålesund at 11:35 AM Friday morning. Photo: Preben Hanssen. 

At 11:35 AM today the ICI-2 rocket was launched from Ny-Ålesund. The launch was a success, and the rocket reached a height of approximately 330 kilometers, before it landed in the ocean at 11:45 AM.

5 December 2008
Text: Eva Therese Jenssen

The ICI-2 rocket’s mission was to fly through the Aurora Borealis, or northern light, in order to uncover more of its secrets. It was the first time that a rocket had been optimized with an instrumentation to resolve turbulent structures created by auroral activities.

The ICI-2 reached a height of 330 kilometers and had a flight time of 10 minutes before it crashed into the ocean south-west of Spitsbergen.

– A success!
Jøran Moen, professor in plasma- and space physics at the University in Oslo and an adjunct professor at UNIS, is very happy with the launch.

– We want to get more accurate data on the finer structures of the aurora, to understand more about the aurora’s effect on satellite navigation and communication systems. So far it seems that this rocket launch will provide us with very useful data, Moen says.

– So far, everything indicates that the launch has been a complete success, Moen says. The data has yet to be analyzed, but the measurement instruments worked as they should and the amount of data is complete. Now the scientists have months of work ahead of them to analyze the information the rocket gathered.

Space weather models
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 and the scientists want to be able to give better predictions about when and where problems will occur.

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.

A lot of people were involved in the launch. Apart from Moen and his colleagues who were stationed in a control room at UNIS, there were people involved at the UNIS auroral station (Kjell Henriksen Observatory), the EISCAT radar, and SvalSat in Longyearbyen, and also at University of Leicester operating HF radars in Finland and Iceland looking over Svalbard. At the launch site in Ny-Ålesund 19 people were working continuously to monitor the launch.

Now or never!
In the control room at UNIS there has been ups and downs over the past week. Several times the scientists have been very close to launch, and on Wednesday they were 70 seconds away from launching the rocket. This morning the tension was even more intense, as it was one of the last mornings the rocket could actually be launched.

At 10:35 AM it was clear that the operation was as close to launch as it had ever been, but suddenly one of the radars had to be rebooted, and the countdown was aborted. Over the next hour the aurora activity was very high, but mainly south of the rocket’s planned trajectory and there were several times the countdown was stopped.

But at 11:30 it was clear that it was now or never. Five minutes later the rocket was airborne, and a collective sigh of relief could be heard. At 11:45 it was over, the rocket had completed its mission and had crashed into the ocean.

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.

Jøran Moen and Gunnar Sand

Professor Jøran Moen (left) and UNIS director Gunnar Sand congratulate each other after the ICI-2 launch was completed. Photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email