October 23, 2021

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See the Space Force’s 1st small rocket launch of 2021 in these photos

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A small sounding rocket launches an experimental payload for the U.S. Space Force and Air Force Research Laboratory from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia on March 3, 2021. (Image credit: U.S. Space Force/AFRL)

The U.S. Space Force launched its first small rocket flight of 2021 this month in a science experiment that dumped a bit of water vapor into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

A three-stage Terrier-Terrier-Oriole suborbital rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia on the afternoon of March 3. No exact time was provided in press materials from NASA or the Space Force.

Related: The history of rockets

This eerie red glow in the sky was created by water vapor launched to the upper atmosphere by the U.S. Space Force sounding rocket on March 3, 2021. (Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Wallops Flight Facility via Twitter)

The rocket was studying the process of ionization — the process by which a molecule gains or loses electrons, which carry electrical charge. It flew to Earth’s ionosphere, a zone of Earth’s atmosphere filled with electrically charged particles.

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