Spaceflight Insider

NASA launch from Wallops visible to many along East Coast

Black Brant sounding rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

NASA launched a Black Brant sounding rocket on Wednesday, Oct. 7, from Wallops Fight Facility in Virginia. Photo Credit: NASA

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, NASA successfully launched a Black Brant sounding rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rocket launched at 7:07 pm EDT (23:07 GMT) and reached an altitude of 160 miles (257.5 km) before falling back into the Atlantic Ocean. The payload was not designed to be recovered and NASA has no plans to retrieve the vehicle.

NASA launched a Black Brant sounding rocket on Wednesday, Oct. 7 from Wallops Fight Facility in Virginia. Photo Credit: NASA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: NASA

The primary purpose of the flight was to test the performance of a new second stage for the launch vehicle. The Black Brant series of sounding rockets have been flown since 1961 with more than 800 launches since it first went into production. The new section was fabricated using a new single step process to create the cylinder and stiffeners used for the section.

The traditional method of manufacturing requires machined parts to be welded together which can be costly and introduce potential failure points. This new methodology could potentially mitigate those risks.

In addition to testing the rocket motor, several experiments were on board. Orbital ATK had three CubeSats designed to look at various material properties. These experiments looked at the use of 3-D printing and carbon nanotube composite structures for use in components such as CNT-coated heat and radiation shields and ultra-lightweight CNT-composite launch vehicle/spacecraft adapters.

Also on board the Black Brant was an experiment to test new ejection technologies for forming vapor clouds. These clouds are used for wind and ionosphere studies. These deployment tools are also used to eject sub-systems from the primary payload during auroral studies.

The launch was visible to many in the mid-Atlantic region and seen as far away as western Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“I managed to catch the live launch, which was really just a flash and it was gone,” he said. “I did manage to catch a tiny orange dot climbing higher and higher then saw the gas release. It was like a little fluffy cotton ball that was visible for probably only 15-20 seconds,” Steve McMillen, a space enthusiast near Lancaster, PA witnessed the event told SpaceFlight Insider.

The next launch currently scheduled from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is a Terrier-Improved Malemute suborbital sounding rocket in November of this year.

While the launches of sounding rockets might be a common occurrence at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, the location is becoming better known for the Antares rocket which has taken to the skies five times since its first flight in April of 2013. One of these launches, the Orb-3 mission, was unsuccessful, resulting in the loss of the booster and its payload approximately 13 seconds into the flight. Orbital ATK, the manufacturer of the rocket, is hoping that Antares will return to flight in March of next year (2016).


Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

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