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Project Highwater

Experimental release of water in the ionosphere resulted in ice clouds and radio disruption.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) The United States plans to launch its Saturn superrocket on a second test flight next Wednesday, and as a bonus experiment, to blow it up 63 miles high to determine what happens when 95 tons of water is sprayed in the icy ionosphere. Primary goal of the flight is to further test the propulsion system of the first stage, an eight-engine monster which pours out 1.3 million pounds of thrust, more than three times greater than any present U.S. rocket. Objectives will be similar to last October's extremely successful first launching of the Saturn, which is a forerunner of rockets which will carry American astronauts to the moon.


The Saturn launching is one of three major firings scheduled this week by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Previously announced were the effort Monday to fire a Ranger 4 instrument package to the moon and an attempt Thursday to orbit an international satellite developed by the United States and Britain. The Saturn water is carried in two dummy upper stages to simulate the weight of the actual upper assembly to be employed on later flights. Called "Project Highwater," the dividend experiment will not interfere with objectives of the Saturn flight. At the time of deliberate destruction 160 seconds after launching the first stage will have consumed its fuel and completed its mission.

The heat of the explosion, triggered by ground signal, will boil the water immediately and scientists estimate 15 percent will evaporate with the remaining 80 to 85 tons forming a cloud of tiny ice particles. If the day is clear, the cloud should be visible for many miles along the Florida coast. Planes and ground cameras will track the cloud. Objective is to observe the effect a large mass of water has on the lower part of the ionosphere, which essentially is the upper atmosphere. Scientists say the chemical and physical effects of the released water will be of much value in defining the normal state of this area. [1]

The first flight, SA-2, took place on April 25, 1962. After the flight test of the rocket was complete and first stage shutdown occurred, explosive charges on the dummy upper stages destroyed the rocket and released 23,000 US gallons (87,000 L) of ballast water weighing 95 short tons (86,000 kg) into the upper atmosphere at an altitude of 65 miles (105 km),[4] eventually reaching an apex of 90 miles (145 km).

The second flight, SA-3, launched on November 16, 1962, and involved the same payload. The ballast water was explosively released at the flight's peak altitude of 104 miles (167 km). For both of these experiments, the resulting ice clouds expanded to several miles in diameter and lightning-like radio disturbances were recorded. [2]

Media Gallery


"SATURN WATER ROCKET TO BE EXPLODED 65 MILES UP." San Bernardino Sun, Volume 16, 22 April 1962, page 4.
"Project Highwater." Wikipedia.
Hillger, Don. Toth, Gary. "(Sub-orbital) Atmospheric and Other Scientific Research Rockets." Regional and Mesoscale Meteorology Branch of NOAA/NESDIS, Colorado State University. •

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