TRICE-2: NASA Sends Another Pair Of Sounding Rockets Into Earth’s Polar Cusp

NASA/Jamie Adkins

Hot on the heels of the VISIONS-2 mission, NASA has launched yet another pair of sounding rockets into our planet’s polar cusp.

Dubbed TRICE-2, this second mission to study Earth’s magnetosphere took to space on December 8, just one day after the twin VISIONS-2 rockets, NASA announced last week.

While VISIONS-2 sent two three-stage Black Brant X rockets plunging through the northern polar cusp, TRICE-2 employed twin four-stage Black Brant XII rockets. The sounding rockets soared through space in the early hours of the morning, lifting off from the Andoya Space Center in Andenes, Norway.

Launching just two minutes apart, the two rockets blasted off into space at 3:26 and 3:28 a.m. EST, reaching maximum altitudes of 646 miles and 469 miles, respectively.

“Double the launch fun! TRICE-2 launches from Norway!” NASA Wallops wrote on Twitter earlier this week, posting an image of the two rockets photographed over the Norwegian Sea.

Photos from the rocket launch were released to the public via Twitter by the Andoya Space Center as well.

This marks the second double-rocket launch pulled off by NASA in two consecutive days. The previous launch, which sent the VISIONS-2 rockets chasing the northern lights to map the oxygen outflow from the aurora, took place from Ny-Alesund in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, as reported by the Inquisitr.

The reason why NASA has sent two missions flying into the polar cusp is that this peculiar region above our planet — described by the space agency as an “unusual portal between Earth and space” — is the best place to study Earth’s atmosphere.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, our planet’s magnetosphere — the protective bubble that shields the Earth from radiation and solar wind — has just two vulnerable spots, the southern and northern polar cusp. These are the only areas of the magnetosphere where charged particles from the sun can seep into our atmosphere.

This makes them the prime location for investigating bizarre atmospheric phenomena, such as atmospheric escape — the strange process examined by the VISIONS-2 mission, characterized by a mysterious loss of atmospheric gases that leak into outer space.

While VISIONS-2 was busy chasing the northern lights to uncover the connection between aurora formation and atmospheric escape, TRICE-2 had another objective.

Time-lapse of the two TRICE-2 rockets photographed over the Norwegian Sea.
Time-lapse of the two TRICE-2 rockets photographed over the Norwegian Sea.Featured image credit: NASA/Jamie Adkins

Short for Twin Rockets to Investigate Cusp Electrodynamics, TRICE-2 “is exploring magnetic reconnection, the explosive process that allows charged particles from space to stream into Earth’s atmosphere,” stated NASA officials.

“The results promise to shed light on the fundamental process of magnetic reconnection and, in the long run, help us better predict how and when Earth’s magnetic shield can suddenly become porous and let outside particles in.”

According to the space agency, the mission’s preliminary results look good. The twin rockets “performed nominally and good science data was received from both flights,” NASA informed in a news release.

NASA's TRICE-2 sounding rockets launching from Andoya Space Center in Norway.
NASA's TRICE-2 sounding rockets launching from Andoya Space Center in Norway.Featured image credit: NASA/Jamie Adkins

The VISIONS-2 and TRICE-2 mission were conducted as part of a larger program called the Grand Challenge Initiative (GCI) — Cusp, which brings together scientists from the United States, Canada, Norway, the U.K., and Japan, in a common endeavor to unlock the secrets of the polar cusp.

NASA’s two sounding rocket missions are the first to launch under the GCI initiative, with seven more to follow. The next mission to take to space will be CAPER-2 (Cusp Alfven and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket), run by Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The mission’s launch window opens on January 1 and lasts for two weeks, with liftoff taking place from Andoya Space Center.