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The two Project High Water launches caused the release of 95 tons of water in the ionosphere.

For both of these experiments, the resulting ice clouds expanded to several miles in diameter and lightning-like radio disturbances were recorded.

What caused the lightning-like radio disturbances? Are there any images of these ice clouds expanding?

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  • $\begingroup$ I imagine the sudden release of a bunch of neutral particles into an partially ionized medium created a local and dramatic change in the ionospheric conductivity. This may have caused polarization electric fields to arise, which could be part of the driver of the lightning. They may also have arose from the water falling through the atmosphere and static-charging (I'm thinking similar mechanisms to natural lightning), but it's difficult to say without knowing more. $\endgroup$ – honeste_vivere Jun 30 '17 at 18:24
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There's a NASA report on the two launches. It has some pictures, but the on-web copy of them has poor scan quality:

enter image description here

But there's a lot of interesting discussion of what's happening.

There's extensive discussion of both radio and radar observations. Although the press coverage mentioned "lightning", the result of the analysis differs:

The injection of the water created a large perturbation of the Ionosphere. This perturbation produced extensive electromagnetic effects. These effects include both emissions of electromagnetic radiation at selected frequencies and attenuations of transmitted signals. No evidence was obtained of any significant (lightning-like) electrical discharges or other broad bandwidth emissions.

Perhaps more unexpected:

The combined optical, ELF-VLF and radar data provides conclusive evidence that a fire developed aboard the tankage section of the SA-3 vehicle fol!owing Project High Water.

The vehicle was carrying water, not fuel or oxidizer, and still managed to catch fire after it was blown up. Unfortunately, there's not much more detail on the fire itself, just the evidence for it.

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