Articles | Volume 8, issue 9
Research article
15 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 15 Sep 2015

Measurement of atomic oxygen in the middle atmosphere using solid electrolyte sensors and catalytic probes

M. Eberhart, S. Löhle, A. Steinbeck, T. Binder, and S. Fasoulas

Abstract. The middle- and upper-atmospheric energy budget is largely dominated by reactions involving atomic oxygen (O). Modeling of these processes requires detailed knowledge about the distribution of this oxygen species. Understanding the mutual contributions of atomic oxygen and wave motions to the atmospheric heating is the main goal of the rocket project WADIS (WAve propagation and DISsipation in the middle atmosphere). It includes, amongst others, our instruments for the measurement of atomic oxygen that have both been developed with the aim of resolving density variations on small vertical scales along the trajectory. In this paper the instrument based on catalytic effects (PHLUX: Pyrometric Heat Flux Experiment) is introduced briefly. The experiment employing solid electrolyte sensors (FIPEX: Flux φ(Phi) Probe Experiment) is presented in detail. These sensors were laboratory calibrated using a microwave plasma as a source of atomic oxygen in combination with mass spectrometer reference measurements. The spectrometer was in turn calibrated for O with a method based on methane. In order to get insight into the horizontal variability, the rocket payload had instrument decks at both ends. Each housed several sensor heads measuring during both the up- and downleg of the trajectory. The WADIS project comprises two rocket flights during different geophysical conditions. Results from WADIS-1 are presented, which was successfully launched in June 2013 from the Andøya Space Center, Norway. FIPEX data were sampled at 100 Hz and yield atomic oxygen density profiles with a vertical resolution better than 9 m. This allows density variations to be studied on very small spatial scales. Numerical simulations of the flow field around the rocket were done at several points of the trajectory to assess the influence of aerodynamic effects on the measurement results. Density profiles peak at 3 × 1010 cm−3 at altitudes of 93.6 and 96 km for the up- and downleg, respectively.

Short summary
In this paper we report on the first-time use of solid electrolyte sensors for selectively measuring atomic oxygen aboard sounding rockets. Together with our second system based on catalytic probes they were part of the WADIS-1 campaign in northern Norway and retrieved density profiles in Earth's middle atmosphere. Sensor data have a high spatial resolution and show small-scall density variations. Profiles are compared to literature data and previous flight results.