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Air & Space

NASA's five-rocket launch to take place no sooner than Tuesday night

  • nasa-atrex-mission-rockets.jpg

    NASA's ATREX mission will launch five rockets within five minutes to help scientists study the high-altitude jet stream located 60 to 65 miles above the surface of the Earth. The rockets being used for the mission are two Terrier-Improved Orions (left), one Terrier-Oriole (center) and two Terrier-Improved Malemutes (right). (NASA/Wallops)

  • atrex-rockets-flight-profile.jpg

    This map of the United States' mid-Atlantic region shows the flight profile of NASA's five ATREX rockets, as well as the projected area where they may be visible after launch on March 14, 2012. The rockets' chemical tracers, meanwhile, should be visible from South Carolina through much of New England. (NASA/Wallops)

A NASA experiment that will see five rockets launched in as many minutes from a site in Wallops Island, Va., will take place on Tuesday night at the earliest, the space agency said Sunday.

The launch was delayed due to expected poor weather, NASA said in a statement, with a decision to be made Monday afternoon on whether the Tuesday night launch would go ahead

The suborbital sounding rockets will help scientists study the jet stream that lies 65 miles (104km) above Earth and packs winds that can zip well over 300mph (480kph).

After they blast off in near-synchronization, the rockets will release a chemical into the jet stream, leaving milky, white cloud trails that will allow researchers and the public to "see" those winds from hundreds of miles away. NASA said the clouds could be visible for up to 20 minutes from South Carolina to New Hampshire and Vermont.

The high-altitude jet stream is different from -- and not as well understood as -- the lower-altitude one often featured in local weather forecasts.

The rockets will pack tools to measure the pressure and temperature in the atmosphere at the peak of the jet stream's high-speed winds, NASA said. The mission will also help scientists learn about how these winds affect satellite and radio communications since the atmospheric region is rife with of electrical turbulence.

After the rockets have completed the mission and their motors burn out, they will splash down and sink to the bottom of the ocean to get new lives as a small artificial reefs.