WALLOPS ISLAND – The latest launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility just south of Assateague Island went up without a hitch early Wednesday morning and was visible throughout much of the mid-Atlantic area, but a thin veil of clouds in the over the resort area prevented what could have been a remarkable show for residents and visitors.
Just before daybreak at around 5:15 a.m. on Wednesday, NASA launched its latest rocket in what has become a more frequent occurrence from the Wallops Island Flight Facility along the coast of Virginia just south of Ocean City and Worcester County. The roughly 55-foot tall, three-stage Black Brant X sub-orbital sounding rocket arched its way across the early morning sky over the Atlantic in an event expected to be visible throughout the mid-Atlantic region. However, cloud cover north of the launch site prevented much of a show for the resort area.
“As a sub-orbital rocket, the Black Brant is not the biggest thing we send up at Wallops, but it is a three-stage rocket that reaches elevations of nearly 400 miles, so it was observed throughout the mid-Atlantic and beyond,” said Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler on Wednesday. “We had people calling in from as far south as South Carolina reporting they had seen the launch. Unfortunately, a thin band of clouds to the north prevented what could have been a spectacular launch viewing at the Inlet or on Assateague.”
The purpose of the mission was to test and qualify the Black Brant X’s third-stage Nihka motor and the mission was accomplished successfully. The rocket was launched at 5:15 a.m. and a short time later the necessary data had been collected and recorded and the rocket’s payload fell harmlessly into the ocean around 5:30 a.m.
The launch countdown began around 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, but by 2 a.m., a light rain began to fall and the rocket’s shelter was put back in place. About a half an hour later, the weather cleared and the countdown clock was restarted. At 3 a.m., surveillance planes took off to scan the open ocean areas around Wallops for ships and vessels in the designated avoidance areas and by 4 a.m., Wallops officials were still keeping a close eye on some vessels in the launch area, but the boats were not an issue at launch time.
“It all worked out very well,” said Koehler. “We were a little concerned because of the White Marlin Open going on and the number of boats in the area because our avoidance area includes some of the fishing grounds. There were some boats in the area, but they all cooperated. Considering the tournament was going on, we didn’t have any problems at all and were able to get done what we needed to do and get those areas open to fishing again.”