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A large-amplitude traveling ionospheric disturbance excited by the space shuttle during launch


  • S. T. Noble


The ionosphere was monitored during the fourth space shuttle (STS 4) launch in June 1982 by the Arecibo incoherent scatter radar. A long-lived, large-amplitude, traveling ionospheric disturbance with dominant wave modes of ∼15 and 75 min was observed shortly after the launch. The disturbance wave train is likely the product of a variety of wave modes. The disturbance front traveled with an average group speed of >628 m/s. Such speeds are typical of fast moving shock waves and ducted gravity waves. Either one or both could be responsible for the signatures observed near the leading edge of the STS 4 wave train. Later arriving waves, with their inherently lower propagation speeds, are attributed to additional gravity wave modes. These waves, however, were not explicity identified in this study. Although atmospheric waves are excited along the entire flight path, the most intense region of excitation is located along a relatively short flight segment (∼70 km) near the launch site where all primary thrusters are firing and over 70% of the propellants are expended. Not since the nuclear bomb tests of the late 1950s and early 1960s has an artificial source of atmospheric gravity waves been more available for upper atmospheric studies. The routine launching of high thrust vehicles provides an excellent opportunity to observe the propogation characteristics of atmospheric waves under controlled conditions and to acquire information on the nature of the upper atmosphere.

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