Rocket launched from missile range takes images of the sun

Feb 16th, 2015

By Drew Hamilton

White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs Office

A rocket launched from White Sand Missile Range took new images of the sun during a scientific mission A rocket launched from White Sand Missile Range took new images of the sun during a scientific mission.conducted Nov. 6.

The rocket, a Black Brant IX sounding rocket launched from WSMRs sounding rocket complex at Launch Complex 36, carried a payload of various telescopes and spectrographs. Under the Rapid Acquisition Imaging Spectrograph Experiment, the rocket rapidly took about 1,500 images of the sun on its flight that took it to an altitude of near 281 kilometers above the earth.

The collected images are high resolution spectral images that instead of showing what the sun actually looks like, show information such as how fast particles are moving, what kinds of particles the sun is putting out, the charge of those particles and other features normally not visible from Earth.

“One of the reasons we fly sounding rockets is because we are trying to look at the sun in the ultraviolet, which is the wavelength range you can see the high temperature corona - the outer atmosphere. You can’t see it from the ground,” said Dr. Don Hassler, from the Southwest Research Institute.

While there are other telescopes and spacecraft looking at the sun, many of them collect images at much lower speeds than the RAISE program, which collected its images over the course of a matter of seconds.

“There’s activity that happens on very fast time scales, that we’ve yet to be able to resolve and that could partly be a clue to why these flare eruptions (occur) in the first place,” Hassler said.

Solar flares and eruptions can be very disruptive to modern life on Earth.

As the charged particles from the sun are launched out into space, they can disrupt satellites and radio transmissions, causing problems for communications, navigation and other activities that rely on these systems.

“As we become a more technological society, we become more reliant on satellites for GPS, for telecommunications and for all these aspects of it that make our society run smoother,” Hassler said.


“You get these large flares, you get these solar eruptions, and they have the potential to interrupt these things.”

Hassler hopes the information gathered studying the sun will go a long way to understanding why these eruptions occur, and can be applied to help mitigate the problems they cause.

“Understanding when the sun is acting up and how it can disrupt these things is important,” Hassler said.

White Sands is well situated to conduct sounding rocket missions to study solar phenomena and other astrological events. Not only is it’s position on the Earth good for experiments of this type, but the experience of WSMR personnel helps keep missions like this running smoothly.

“Everyone here on the NASA side of White Sands and the Navy side is fantastic. The Navy is always willing to help us in any way they can,” Hassler said.

Under the Navy’s sounding rocket program, run by the WSMR Naval detachment, launches like the one in support of the RAISE program can make use of the range’s airspace and land mass to allow for easy launches with a safe recovery, something that other facilities struggle to do.

“The thing we like about White Sands is it’s easy to recover our payloads, they just land down range. We just recover it with helicopters and we have it back the same day.

“(When) you launch (at other facilities) in Alaska or Norway, frequently you don’t recover your payloads,” Hassler said.


White Sands is well situated to conduct sounding rocket missions to study solar phenomena.