Introduction to Microgravity
Tutorial on Microgravity Research

Tutorial on Microgravity Research

page 4: Means of Obtaining Microgravity

NASA currently uses over a dozen sounding rockets, varying in sizes (from 7 feet to 65 feet tall) and flight altitudes (from 30 miles to more than 800 miles).

For a sounding rocket experiment, the maximum payload mass is 950 kilograms or 2,500 pounds (on the Aries), maximum altitude is 1,800 kilometers or 1,118 miles (on the Black Brant XII), and maximum mission duration is 22 minutes.

Sounding rockets offer several unique features to investigators, such as reusable buses, parachute recovery systems, and mother/daughter payloads.

The following shows the different rockets used by NASA.

NASA maintains the following sites for the development and launch of sounding rockets.

  • Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) Wallops Island, Virginia - Wallops is responsible for many aspects of the rocket flight, including payload design and integration of the experiment. Integration involves the testing of all payload components as well as the hand shaking between the experiment and the rest of the payload.
  • White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), New Mexico - Provides further integration facilities, launch vehicles, and launch site.
  • Poker Flat Research Range, Fairbanks, Alaska - Same facilities as WSMR, but used more often for auroral studies.
  • Also, temporary launch facilities have been set up in places such as Puerto Rico, Peru, Greenland, Australia, and even an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean.