NASA plans to Launch Rockets into the April 8 Total Solar Eclipse

Three sounding rockets ventured over 200 miles (322 kilometers) into the ionosphere in October 2023, and they successfully returned to the Earth’s surface. They are currently preparing for their second flight.

During the complete solar eclipse on April 8, NASA’s Atmospheric Perturbations surrounding Eclipse Path (APEP) project, which is named for the Egyptian deity of darkness and the sun god Ra’s nemesis, will fire the three sounding rockets back into the moon’s shadow. The objective is to investigate any ionosphere-related disruptions during a solar eclipse.

Team leader Aroh Barjatya of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida described the area as “It’s an electrified region that reflects and refracts radio signals, and also impacts satellite communications as the signals pass through,” in a statement. “Understanding the ionosphere and developing models to help us predict disturbances is crucial to making sure our increasingly communication-dependent world operates smoothly.”

Following launch, each rocket will expel four secondary instruments into the ionosphere, a distance of up to 260 miles (420 km), which will allow them to gather data on the density of charged and neutral particles prior to, during, and following the eclipse.

It’s not APEP’s first time at this. An annular eclipse in 2023 served as the mission’s maiden launch, acting as a type of practice run for the impending total solar eclipse. The rockets captured some intriguing data during that test: a sharp decrease in the charged particle density of the ionosphere, which might interfere with space-based communication equipment.

Barjatya stated, “We saw the perturbations capable of affecting radio communications in the second and third rockets, but not during the first rocket that was before peak local eclipse,” “We are super excited to relaunch them during the total eclipse, to see if the perturbations start at the same altitude and if their magnitude and scale remain the same.”

The launch on Monday will take place at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, whereas the first launch was at the White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico. You can view the launch in person between 1 and 4 p.m. local time if you happen to be nearby. However, NASA will stream the launch live on the Wallops YouTube channel if you’d want to watch it from a distance.