A quick survey of the Guinness World Records offices has given the consensus that attaching rockets to something is one of the best ways to make it more fun. Many record breakers share this philosophy, including the Joseph Whitaker School Young Engineers with their Fastest rocket-powered model car, and the prospective land-speed record holders Bloodhound SSC, which are both using rockets to launch themselves into the record books.
At a first glance, it seemed like NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program (USA)’s recent mission was taking this philosophy a little too far by firing an astounding 44 rockets in one flight. However, this was much more carefully planned than fitting as many rocket motors as possible to a spacecraft - each individual rocket had a crucial and calculated part in making this scientific research mission a success. The program managed to set a new record for the Most rocket engines fired on a single flight.
Sounding rockets – sometimes called ‘research rockets’ – are designed to carry scientific experiments into sub-orbital flight. The record-breaking flight was part of the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment II (or CARE II), project. Itwas launched to create and study ‘dusty plasmas’, a class of plasma which can be found in Saturn’s rings, or - closer to home - in noctilucent clouds in Earth’s mesosphere, which is the layer of Earth’s atmosphere that lies between 50 and 100 km (31 to 62 miles) above sea level. Dusty plasma can disrupt radar signals, so it’s important to understand as much as we can about it.
To make a dusty plasma, you firstly need - you guessed it - dust. 37 of the 44 rocket engines fired on the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment II (or CARE II), flight were dedicated to pumping out fine dust particles made of aluminum oxide and other compounds. These dusty clouds of particles were then electrically charged to make a plasma, which was intensely studied by on-board instruments and ground-based sensors.
The experiment will give scientists a better idea of the properties of noctilucent clouds, which are the highest clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere
Speaking of the record-breaking achievement, Phil Eberspeaker, Office Chief for the Sounding Rocket Program, said, “Being recognized by Guinness World Records for this achievement is icing on the cake for the entire team. To successfully carry out this mission required great planning from everyone involved.”
NASA’s Sounding Rockets program has been going strong since 1959, helping scientists to learn about high-energy astrophysics, planetary sciences, micro-gravity and much more. Who knows what out-of-this-world records may be broken in future?