The Endurance Rocket Mission: Gauging Earth’s Ambipolar Electric Potential
NASA’s Endurance sounding rocket (yard No. 47.001) will launch from Ny Ålesund, Svalbard in May 2022 on a solid fueled Oriole III-A launch vehicle. Its ∼19 minute flight will carry it to an altitude of ∼780 km above Earth’s sunlit polar cap. Its objective is to make the first measurement of the weak “ambipolar” electric field generated by Earth’s ionosphere. This field is thought to play a critical role in the upwelling and escape of ionospheric ions, and thus potentially in the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere. The results will enable us to determine the importance to ion escape of this previously unmeasured fundamental property of our planet, which will aid in a better understanding of what makes Earth habitable. Endurance will carry six science instruments (with 16 sensors) that will measure the total electrical potential drop below the spacecraft, and the physical parameters required to understand the physics of what generates the ambipolar field. The mission will be supported by simultaneous observations of solar and geomagnetic activity.