An Introduction to Space Instrumentation,
Edited by K. Oyama and C. Z. Cheng, pp. 53-61.
© TERRAPUB, 2013.

Rocket-borne Lithium ejection system for neutral wind measurement

Hiroto Habu1, Masa-yuki Yamamoto2, Shigeto Watanabe3, and Miguel F. Larsen4

1Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan
2Kochi University of Technology, Japan
3Hokkaido University, Japan
4Clemson University, U.S.A.

Abstract: Chemical tracer releases represent the most widely used technique for in situ neutral wind measurements in the thermosphere/ionosphere region. Different chemicals have been used for this purpose, but lithium releases in particular provide some unique capabilities due to the strong resonant emissions that are produced when lithium is illuminated by sunlight. The majority of the lithium releases from sounding rockets were carried out in the 1960's and 1970's, but there has been recent renewed interest in the use of lithium vapor releases to extend neutral wind measurements into the F region and for daytime wind profile measurements in the E region. The rocketborne Lithium Ejection System (LES) is a chemical release device that has been developed for the Japanese space research program. Since lithium vapor acts as a neutral tracer, the winds are obtained by tracking the motion of the clouds or trails optically from the ground using the bright red emission that is characteristic of the chemical. Lithium is a solid at room temperature, so that a gas release requires rapid vaporization of the metal to make the cloud at the intended altitude. The release canister is designed to produce a high-heat chemical reaction without gaseous products. Appropriate mixtures of thermite are employed as the heat source. In early experiments, lithium pellets were mixed directly into the thermite. However, since lithium is an active chemical, the use of lithium-thermite mixtures creates potential hazards when used in a rocket-borne device. Moreover, the pyrotechnic devices used to ignite the thermite also have to be considered in the payload canister design to assure that the safety standards for sounding rockets are satisfied. The design of the LES, described in this paper, was based on the safety requirements and the reliability in storing and handling of the materials. The LES design is also flexible in that the lithium tracer material can be replaced with other chemicals without difficulties. This paper introduces the design of the LES and the method for controlling the thermite burn.
Key words: Chemical payload, thermite reaction, neutral wind observation.

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