MICA 36.273 Powell Mission - Launch Season 2012

To MICA 36.273 payload team and science team members and supporters:

Mon 2/6, 1 week before Launch window

Greetings from Fairbanks where it currently is +28 degrees F. That is 79 degrees warmer than it was last weekend when many of our team members arrived (many of the ROC crew arrived a week or two earlier and they experienced even more super cold weather). I have to admit that I prefer the cold weather, since that generally also means clear skies for better aurora viewing, but the record lows of last weekend (-58F at Poker) were a bit too chilly.


Thanks to a symphony of shipments via heated truck, steamship, train, military cargo plane, FedEx, and UPS, all of our rocket motors and payload segments and support equipment arrived safely at Poker this past week. A personal thank you to everyone who had a hand in shipping all of these items. This keeps us on track for the opening of the launch window the evening of February 13.


Early this week we expect to complete our experiment checks (initial checks looked very good), perform GPS rollout tests for the main and sub payloads, full sequence testing, and PFISR/TM compatibility testing. Later in the week we will perform final assembly and an ACS phasing check, with the goal of taking the payload to the launcher on Friday, a practice count on Saturday, a day off on Sunday, and opening of the window on Monday, February 13. Mission Manager Jay Scott has arranged quite a choreography of events. Also happening late in the week will be movement of personnel and equipment to our downrange optical sites (thanks Don, Hans, others). A busy but exciting week of work awaits.

Launch Window Day #1 -- Mon 2/13 8pm-2am

The first couple of hours of the window were used for umby rigging, boxing, final arming and payload vertical checks. We had some breaks in the clouds, but the aurora was not strong enough or in the right place to consider launching.

Launch Window Day #2 -- Tues 2/14 8pm-2:30am

We dropped the count down several times tonight and had very good aurora, but it did not organize itself into the type of arcs in the right place, that we are trying to study. We came very, very close to launching, getting as low as 36 seconds from liftoff before holding the count. The auroral activity was much greater tonight than anyone here or elsewhere would have predicted. And the skies were clear at most of our sites for more than half of the launch window. Extended the window to 2:30 am in hopes of getting the aurora to reorganize into arcs.

Launch Window Day #3 -- Wed 2/15 8pm-1:30am

It was a quiet night for two reasons: there was very little aurora and there was poor visibility at our down range sites. Just about the exact opposite of the previous night with hours of aurora and nearly launching. Scrubbed at 1:30 am due to clouds at down range sites and low geomagnetic activity. A videographer from the Discovery Channel filmed the launch pad, inside the blockhouse, the vertical checks inside the telemetry building, and the Science Operations Center, for a future documentary.

Launch Window Day #4 -- Thurs 2/16 8pm-2am

Clear skies up north for the entire window was very encouraging. An arc formed in the far north early in the window and slowly moved south and then intensified. We dropped the count to 2 minutes and held there for just over an hour as we watched the arc develop some structure briefly and then become more diffuse. Interestingly, the Ft Yukon magnetometer showed nice deviations toward the end of this event, but the aurora became more diffuse and less arc-like. We scrubbed at 2 am.

Several factors point to a pick-up in solar activity and related auroral activity on February 18-19 including a coronal hole high speed stream, so we eagerly await Days 5 & 6 of the launch window.

Launch Window Day #5 -- Fri 2/17 8pm-2:00am

We were greeted by beautifully clear skies at Poker and both down range sites, Venetie and Ft Yukon, at the opening of the window, along with some of the quietest geomagnetic conditions of the rocket campaign. The GOES magnetometer appeared to be in calibration mode drawing smooth sine waves rather than the more jagged fluctuations that are usually associated with auroral substorms. Nonetheless, our friend the little red arc of the north appeared on the extreme northern horizon, well north of Ft Yukon and gradually slid south. When it was just north of our rocket trajectory it showed signs of intensification, so we dropped the count to 2 minutes. Unfortunately the intensification that occurred was accompanied by movement northward. We watched a good auroral event occur near the north coast of Alaska, which unfortunately did not migrate south by the time our launch window closed at 2 am.

Launch Window Day #6 -- Sat 2/18 Noon

As I write this message at noon on Saturday, signs of life have returned to the geomagnetic field and the solar wind which seem to indicate that we have begun to feel the effects of the anticipated coronal hole high speed stream. The solar wind speed has increased by about 20% and the density by a factor of 10. GOES has begun to see some irregular fluctuations. These are all encouraging signs and we have our fingers crossed that they will stick around for the launch window this evening. We should be on our toes for some possible early evening activity.

Launch Window Day #6 -- Sat 2/18 8pm-8:41pm

This evening (February 18, 2012) at 8:41 pm Alaska standard time, we launched the MICA 36.273 rocket and I'm pleased to report that the rocket performance and scientific measurements were a success. About an hour prior to launch we had a hint of good things to come, with some of the best and strongest aurora directly over the Poker Flat launch site for all of our launch team participants to observe during the beautiful twilight. During the time of the rocket flight we observed structured aurora at our downrange sites at Ft Yukon and Venetie, which was a prime objective. I'm also pleased to report that the science instruments performed very well on both the main and sub-payloads. The rocket also performed well and achieved an apogee of 325 km (202 miles).

This project was truly a team effort involving so many groups and individuals at the various research institutions and NASA Wallops and Poker Flat that I'm afraid to mention them all here, in fear of forgetting some. So to everyone, everywhere, that has contributed directly, indirectly, and supported this mission I offer my most sincere thank you.

--Steven Powell
MICA Mission PI