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NASA's 5-rocket mission to blast off tonight

Cloudy jet stream test will be webcast live

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Tonight's the night for NASA's five rockets in five minutes plan, providing the skies stay clear, with the first launch scheduled for sometime between midnight and 1.30am EST (5am to 6.30am on 15 March GMT).

The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) is hoping to gather the information needed to understand the high-altitude jet stream 60 to 65 miles above the Earth at the edge of space.

The five rockets, two Terrier-Improved Malemutes, two Terrier-Improved Orions and one Terrier-Oriole, will all be blasting into the sky within a five-minute time frame, leaving trails of a chemical tracer. The tracer's whose behaviour will give boffins the data they need to figure out which way the wind blows.

The Terrier-Oriole will go first and will be one of the two rockets to also have a payload of instruments to measure the pressure and temperature in the upper atmosphere, far above where the jet stream we're used to hearing about in the weather forecast lies.

The next four boosters will launch at 80-second intervals, with all five dumping their tracer trails at altitudes of between 53 and 84 miles (85 and 130km), leaving milky-white clouds that should allow the cameras on the ground and the public to "see" the winds for up to 20 minutes.

Residents from South Carolina to southern New Hampshire and Vermont will be treated to the show and the mission will be webcast live here.

If there's a last-minute call-off, back-up launch days from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia are from 16 March through to 3 April. ®

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