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
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
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. – NASA has again delayed the experimental launch of five research rockets in as many minutes from a facility in Virginia, pushing back the launch time to the early hours of Friday.
After initially planning to launch the suborbital sounding rockets from its Wallops Island, Va., facility last Wednesday, NASA has been repeatedly forced by poor weather to delay the experiment. Clear skies -- at Wallops Island and viewing sites in New Jersey and North Carolina -- are necessary for the launch to go ahead.
The launch is now planned for between midnight and 3:00am Friday.
The rockets are destined for the jet stream that lies 65 miles (104 km) above Earth and packs winds that can zip well over 300 mph (480 kph).
After blasting off in near-synchronization, the rockets will release a chemical into that atmospheric highway, leaving milky, white cloud trails that will allow researchers and the public to "see" those winds from hundreds of miles (kilometers) 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 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 small artificial reefs.