Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – Two NASA sounding rockets were sent to the edges of the atmosphere above the Marshall Islands on June 19 in order to study communication disruption in the upper atmosphere.

The rockets deployed two tracers to gather information for the “Waves and Instabilities from a Neutral Dynamo” mission, better known as Too-WINDY.

“The data won’t be intelligible until it has undergone considerable processing which will take us weeks or months,” said the project’s lead investigator, David Hysell, professor and department chair of earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell University.

The rockets’ data-collection and instrumentation were developed and built at Cornell over the last two years by Steve Powell, a research engineer in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with help from Siddhant Rao.

The first rocket flew to an altitude of 232 miles and released trimethylaluminum (TMA) and lithium, according to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, which was in charge of the Marshall Islands launch. The second rocket flew to an altitude of 256 miles.

The scientists collected information on election densities, as well as electrical-field, magnetic-field and neutral-wind profiles in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere – the layer bombarded by solar and cosmic radiation – at altitudes between 80 and 350 kilometers. Some of the ionosphere’s layers close to Earth’s equator – considered a “low magnetic latitude” – degrade radio and radar signals more than the rest of the ionosphere.

Predicting these upper atmospheric and ionospheric disturbances ahead of time could help improve the reliability of space- and ground-based communication systems.

“The goal of all this is to measure, understand and ultimately predict a kind of space weather that is common at low magnetic latitudes,” Hysell said.

Researchers from Clemson University and Boston College also supported this mission.

For more information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

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