Gigantic Circular Shock Acoustic Waves in the Ionosphere Triggered by the Launch of FORMOSAT-5 Satellite

Min Yang Chou, Ming Hsueh Shen, Charles C.H. Lin, Jia Yue, Chia Hung Chen, Jann Yenq Liu, Jia Ting Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivered Taiwan's FORMOSAT-5 satellite to orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 18:51:00 UT on 24 August 2017. To facilitate the delivery of FORMOSAT-5 to its mission orbit altitude of ~720 km, the Falcon 9 made a steep initial ascent. During the launch, the supersonic rocket induced gigantic circular shock acoustic waves (SAWs) in total electron content (TEC) over the western United States beginning approximately 5 min after the liftoff. The circular SAWs emanated outward with ~20 min duration, horizontal phase velocities of ~629–726 m/s, horizontal wavelengths of ~390–450 km, and period of ~10.28 ± 1 min. This is the largest rocket-induced circular SAWs on record, extending approximately 114–128°W in longitude and 26–39°N in latitude (~1,500 km in diameter), and was due to the unique, nearly vertical attitude of the rocket during orbit insertion. The rocket-exhaust plume subsequently created a large-scale ionospheric plasma hole (~900 km in diameter) with 10–70% TEC depletions in comparison with the reference days. While the circular SAWs, with a relatively small amplitude of TEC fluctuations, likely did not introduce range errors into the Global Navigation Satellite Systems navigation and positioning system, the subsequent ionospheric plasma hole, on the other hand, could have caused spatial gradients in the ionospheric plasma potentially leading to a range error of ~1 m.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-184
Number of pages13
JournalSpace Weather
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • SpaceX
  • ionospheric disturbances
  • ionospheric plasma hole
  • rocket
  • shock acoustic waves


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