suborbital space

Sounding Rocket Science in the Arctic

We sent three suborbital sounding rockets right into the auroras above Alaska on the evening of March 1 local time from the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks, Alaska.  

Sounding rockets are suborbital rockets that fly up in an arc and immediately come back down, with a total flight time around 20 minutes. 

Though these rockets don’t fly fast enough to get into orbit around Earth, they still give us valuable information about the sun, space, and even Earth itself. Sounding rockets’ low-cost access to space is also ideal for testing instruments for future satellite missions.

Sounding rockets fly above most of Earth’s atmosphere, allowing them to see certain types of light – like extreme ultraviolet and X-rays – that don’t make it all the way to the ground because they are absorbed by the atmosphere. These kinds of light give us a unique view of the sun and processes in space.

The sun seen in extreme ultraviolet light by the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite.

Of these three rockets, two were part of the Neutral Jets in Auroral Arcs mission, collecting data on winds influenced by the electric fields related to auroras. Sounding rockets are the perfect vehicle for this type of study, since they can fly directly through auroras – which exist in a region of Earth’s upper atmosphere too high for scientific balloons, but too low for satellites.

The third rocket that launched on March 1 was part of the ISINGLASS mission (short for Ionospheric Structuring: In Situ and Ground-based Low Altitude Studies). ISINGLASS included two rockets designed to launch into two different types of auroras in order to collect detailed data on their structure, with the hope of better understanding the processes that create auroras. The initial ISINGLASS rocket launched a few weeks earlier, on Feb. 22, also from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska.

Auroras are caused when charged particles trapped in Earth’s vast magnetic field are sent raining down into the atmosphere, usually triggered by events on the sun that propagate out into space. 

Team members at the range had to wait until conditions were just right until they could launch – including winds, weather, and science conditions. Since these rockets were studying aurora, that means they had to wait until the sky was lit up with the Northern Lights.

Regions near the North and South Pole are best for studying the aurora, because the shape of Earth’s magnetic field naturally funnels aurora-causing particles near the poles. 

But launching sensitive instruments near the Arctic Circle in the winter has its own unique challenges. For example, rockets have to be insulated with foam or blankets every time they’re taken outside – including while on the launch pad – because of the extremely low temperatures.

For more information on sounding rockets, visit

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Marking its first public appearance since retirement, Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster appeared at the MARS 2017 conference in Boston this week. The rocket made five suborbital flights into space between November 2015 and October 2016 before being retired.

Held annually in Boston, the Machine-Learning Automation, Robotics & Space Exploration, or MARS conference, is an invite-only tech show hosted by Blue Origin’s founder, Jeff Bezos, also created Amazon and acts as its CEO.

P/C: Christian Davenport


Almost a month ago, the spaceflight company Blue Origin sent a rocket up to the edge of space and then guided it gracefully back down to earth, intact. It was a historic first.

But Blue Origin’s major competitor, SpaceX, was quick to point out that the rocket wasn’t going fast enough (or sideways enough) to place a satellite into orbit - just 4,600 kph (~2,860 mph). It went straight up, and then straight down.

Now, SpaceX has managed to put 11 satellites in orbit with a “reusable” rocket. Their rocket didn’t just go up and down - it reached a horizontal velocity of 6,000 kph (3,600 mph) before returning to earth. If SpaceX is able to refurbish the rocket and use it in another launch, they’ll have figured out a way to dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflight.

Here’s the full webcast. And here’s the full story.

Video credit: SpaceX


A very cool anon told me about this group a while ago. This is a great short on the group Copenhagen Suborbitals: a nonprofit made of volunteers who make and launch their own homemade spacecrafts.

Last night, I dreamt about my Ex in the way I knew her most intimately.

Two eyes, then four, and then all six, like the darkness of suborbital space given conscience and turned towards.

She held me in fractal vision and stripped my human comprehension of sensuality beyond the third and fourth dimensions. She unmade me.

At certain airline-friendly altitudes, the atmosphere blocks less of the radiation bullshit that space and our own sun throw at us. Experts state that normal fliers “probably” don’t have much to worry about, but pilots, airplane personnel, and hardcore frequent fliers who might be looking at a fistful of cellular fuckery somewhere down the line. Thing is, suborbital space travel is coming faster than you think, both as a space tourism experience and as a super-fast travel method. And there’ll be almost zero safety track record when you buy that economy class ticket on American Suborbital 357 to go visit your friend in Murmansk.

5 Things You Do Every Day That Will Kill You In The Future


Rocket reuse to space has happened. Blue Origin has successfully flown their New Shepard rocket (the same one that flew to space a few months ago) above the Karman Line (boundary of space).

The crucial idea is that they are helping to prove that we don’t need to build a new rocket every time we launch, which is a huge reason why travel to space is so incredibly pricey.

Another key concept is that this rocket only goes suborbital. Their rivals also working towards reusability are SpaceX, whose rockets are going into orbital space.

(Image credit: Blue Origin)

Apollo-Saturn 201 (AS-201), the first Saturn IB launch vehicle developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:12 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1966. The AS-201 mission was an unmanned suborbital flight to test the Saturn 1B launch vehicle and the Apollo Command and Service Modules. This was the first flight of the S-IB and S-IVB stages, including the first flight test of the liquid-hydrogen/liquid oxygen-propelled J-2 engine in the S-IVB stage. During the thirty-seven minute flight, the vehicle reached an altitude of 303 miles and traveled 5,264 miles downrange.


Copenhagen Suborbitals BPM2 engine test