General Description of Sounding Rockets


Sounding rockets take their name from the nautical term "to sound", which means to take measurements. NASA currently launches 14 different sounding rockets, ranging from the Arcas (7ft tall, 30 mile apogee) to the Black Brant XII (65ft tall, 800 mile apogee).

Sounding rockets are used to study the Earth's atmosphere at many different altitudes and the Earth's ionosphere and aurora. Also, since sounding rockets can get above the atmosphere, they are used to study astronomical targets in the ultraviolet and x-ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Why use Sounding Rockets?

Sounding rockets have an advantage over other forms of space-borne experiments for the following reasons.

NASA Facilities

NASA maintains the following sites for the development and launch of sounding rockets.


A sounding rocket comprises two main sections:

Rocket Motor

As mentioned earlier, NASA launches 14 different sounding rockets, however the Johns Hopkins Rocket Program has mostly been using the Black Brant IX of late. This is a two stage solid-fueled rocket. The first stage is a Terrier booster, originally developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of the Johns Hopkins University. The second stage is a Black Brant motor, built by Bristol Aerospace.


The specific make-up of a sounding rocket payload will depend on the mission, however there are some components that most payloads have in common. The following is a list of the payload sections flown on recent JHU Rocket Program flights: