During the suborbital flight, scheduled for launch between 5:30 - 6:50 p.m. EST on Tuesday, the Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket will release two red-colored lithium vapor trails in space that may be seen throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Cameras at Wallops and on a NASA aircraft will view the resulting red trails.
Libby West, mission project manager with the NASA Sounding Rocket Program Office at Wallops, said "This launch is a technology test flight for two upcoming missions. We will be testing two different methods for creating the lithium vapor to determine which configuration is best for observing various science phenomena in space."
NASA has two missions later this year that will use the lithium trails to assist scientists in observing events in space. The first is scheduled for April in the central Pacific Ocean from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and the second will occur in June at Wallops.
In the technology test launch, two canisters in the rocket's payload section will contain solid metal lithium rods or chips embedded in a thermite cake. The thermite is ignited and produces heat to vaporize the lithium. The vapor is released in space and can be detected and tracked optically.
During the flight, one vapor trail will occur at approximately 72 miles altitude and the second will occur at around 78 miles altitude.
The lithium combustion process poses no threat to the public during the release in space. When heated, the lithium rods change to lithium vapor and small amounts of lithium oxide. The thermite reaction produces iron and aluminum oxide.
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