Rocket-Released Neutral Clouds in the Ionosphere: Formation, Evolution, and Detection

Alex C. Fletcher, Chris Crabtree, Gurudas Ganguli, Carl Siefring, Angel Rualdo Soto-Chavez, Chris Netwall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Releasing diffuse artificial clouds into the space environment using a rocket or spacecraft can modify the natural plasma state. This uses space itself as a laboratory for studying plasma phenomena that cannot be reproduced on the ground. The Space Measurement of A Rocket-released Turbulence (SMART) mission will inject a beam of barium neutral vapor into the ionosphere and perpendicular to the Earth's magnetic field. Barium atoms will be photoionized, forming an ion ring distribution that is unstable to lower hybrid waves. Large amplitude lower hybrid waves nonlinearly scatter to whistler and magnetosonic waves that can propagate out to the magnetosphere. This paper details the theory, modeling, and simulation we used to design this release experiment to optimize the energy in the plasma waves under a variety of constraints. A product of this analysis is quantitative predictions for some in situ and remote measurements. Hydrocode simulations of barium vapourization and acceleration via shaped charge provide the initial state of the neutral beam. We optimize the apogee, orientation, and position of the payload and instruments. Cloud dynamics are simulated with a direct simulation Monte Carlo technique, which includes photoionization with metastable barium states, collisions with the neutral background atmosphere, optical line emission, gravity, and electromagnetic forces. We predict the plasma density measured by the instrument payload and the remotely measured optical intensity. We also examine how the plasma wave growth differs at the measurement location compared to the bulk of the barium cloud.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022JA031039
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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