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Ground and Space-Based Measurement of Rocket Engine Burns in the Ionosphere

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35 Author(s)
Bernhardt, P.A. ; Plasma Phys. Div., Naval Res. Lab., Washington, DC, USA ; Ballenthin, J.O. ; Baumgardner, J.L. ; Bhatt, A.
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On-orbit firings of both liquid and solid rocket motors provide localized disturbances to the plasma in the upper atmosphere. Large amounts of energy are deposited to ionosphere in the form of expanding exhaust vapors which change the composition and flow velocity. Charge exchange between the neutral exhaust molecules and the background ions (mainly O+) yields energetic ion beams. The rapidly moving pickup ions excite plasma instabilities and yield optical emissions after dissociative recombination with ambient electrons. Line-of-sight techniques for remote measurements rocket burn effects include direct observation of plume optical emissions with ground and satellite cameras, and plume scatter with UHF and higher frequency radars. Long range detection with HF radars is possible if the burns occur in the dense part of the ionosphere. The exhaust vapors initiate plasma turbulence in the ionosphere that can scatter HF radar waves launched from ground transmitters. Solid rocket motors provide particulates that become charged in the ionosphere and may excite dusty plasma instabilities. Hypersonic exhaust flow impacting the ionospheric plasma launches a low-frequency, electromagnetic pulse that is detectable using satellites with electric field booms. If the exhaust cloud itself passes over a satellite, in situ detectors measure increased ion-acoustic wave turbulence, enhanced neutral and plasma densities, elevated ion temperatures, and magnetic field perturbations. All of these techniques can be used for long range observations of plumes in the ionosphere. To demonstrate such long range measurements, several experiments were conducted by the Naval Research Laboratory including the Charged Aerosol Release Experiment, the Shuttle Ionospheric Modification with Pulsed Localized Exhaust experiments, and the Shuttle Exhaust Ionospheric Turbulence Experiments.

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Plasma Science, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:40 ,  Issue: 5 )