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The First Solar Flare Sounding Rocket Campaign and Its Potential Impacts for High Energy Solar Instrumentation

Presentation #313.15 in the session “Solar Physics Division (SPD): Instrumentation and Active Regions”.

Published onJun 18, 2021
The First Solar Flare Sounding Rocket Campaign and Its Potential Impacts for High Energy Solar Instrumentation

Solar flares are an essential driver of space weather as they account for the rapid release of powerful amounts of energy (~1032 ergs) in a matter of seconds to hours. Observations from the past several decades have yielded a wealth of understanding of these events while at the same time presenting countless new questions. Key gaps in our knowledge remain that cannot be satisfactorily answered with available instrumentation, and we are now at the precipice of the value of incremental improvements in technology versus the need for design breakthroughs. The latter requires exceptional testing in order to justify vast investments within Explorer-class mission programs. High energy instrumentation often invokes the additional requirement of testing above the absorption layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. The NASA sounding rocket program has been an invaluable pathway for developing such cutting-edge technologies. However, these suborbital missions have been severely limited for the development of flare-specific instrumentation due to the current inability to remain in a holding pattern until a flare occurs at the White Sands Missile Range (~1 hour) compounded by the short duration of a flight (~5 minutes of science observations) in which it is nearly impossible to capture a flare per chance. In response to this deficiency, a pilot solar flare campaign has been established to test the ability to launch multiple sounding rockets (two nearly simultaneously) with instrumentation optimized to observe flares from the Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska, taking advantage of the site’s ability to accommodate a long holding pattern (~4 hours per day for several weeks). This capability has been utilized extensively by the geospace communities. We present an overview of the first three payloads participating in this pilot program, Hi-C Flare, FOXSI 4, and SNIFS, and discuss how this new technology development paradigm could enable the next wave of exploratory flare missions.


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