Rocket Launch Successful

Jul 02, 2013

A NASA sounding rocket carrying the UW’s Star Tracker 5000 was launched from Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast on June 5th. The mission was successful. What set it apart from previous missions was that a four-stage rocket was used for extra altitude, it was launched from the east coast, and the rocket was ditched into the Atlantic Ocean.

UW Senior Research Scientist and project PI Jeff Percival and Kurt Jaehnig (instrument designer) invented the Star Tracker 5000, the rocket’s guiding device, which NASA licenses from the UW for its suborbital sounding rocket program. The device provides the rocket with greater precision in pointing at targets. Percival also works with team members Don Michalski (electrical engineer) and Sam Gabelt (electronic technician).

“This mission was unusual,” says Percival. “We used a four-stage super duper rocket that went extra high (385 miles), as opposed to the usual 250 miles in normal launches.” Sounding rockets are usually launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, and the payload part (telescope) is recovered and sent back to its respective university, where grad students rebuild it. “Because this launch was so high, we sacrificed the whole rocket to get high over the east coast and the ocean,” he adds. “With a greater number of seconds on the target, NASA decided it was worth the cost and sacrifice.”

Percival is UW’s representative at NASA’s sounding rocket launches. He has flown 26 astronomical missions used by science teams around the country. They are each about 15 minutes long.

UW-Madison Astronomy Home