So, in the meantime, maybe we can start discussing some things about space so that the comments I will make later will make more sense. For starters, I should make it clear that the "space" we are talking about is the space between the Sun and Earth (well, and the other planets, too). What I will not talk about at this point are stars, interstellar space, early universe stuff, etc. Not that these aren't interesting topics, but let's take one thing at a time!!!
So, some basic things you will need to know to help understand what we are trying to do:
1. Space is NOT empty!! In fact, the space between the Sun and Earth is filled with electrically charged particles (mostly electrons and protons) and a solar magnetic field.
2. Maybe you already know that Earth has its own magnetic field (which is what turns a compass needle), too. In fact, the shape of its magnetic field is very much like that of a bar magnet. An interesting point, though, is that the north magnetic pole is not in the same place as the northern geographic pole (likewise for the southern poles). The reason for this is complicated and not really clear.......
3. Finally, electricity and magnetism are very closely connected. Electric motors, for example, convert electric fields to magnetic fields to make things spin. It may be no surprise to you, then, that electrically charged particles tend to drift (or flow) along magnetic field lines.
OK, so here I am sitting in a very northern place, getting ready to launch a rocket. Before I get into "why here", I should give some background information.
The field of "space science" mostly has to do with trying to understand how energy in the solar wind gets transferred to Earth. We certainly do know that there is a strong connection between the solar wind and our upper atmosphere and, also, that a lot of energy is dumped into the atmosphere. For now, I'll skip the details about why this whole problem is important (otherwise I'll never get to talk about the rocket!).
Remember, Earth's magnetic field is shaped like a bar magnet, right? Well, that's only partially true. In fact, the solar wind has a dramatic effect on the shape of Earth's field and distorts it dramatically. One good picture of this can be seen at http://spacescience.spaceref.com/newhome/headlines/ast07jan99_1.htm (look at the brownish colored figure on that page). I hope that you can see that the solar wind basically sweeps Earth's magnetic field away from the Sun. The result is the formation of a "magnetosphere" around Earth, whose shape is very much controlled by the solar wind and can change quite dramatically over the course of a few minutes when the Sun gets excited and spews out large quantities of stuff.
There is an important detail in that picture, located in the upper left corner of the image and labeled "polar cusp". Well, the feature is important for us, since it is that specific region of space that we are studying with this rocket. What's the big deal about something that seems to be a relatively small detail in big the picture? Well, some important things happen in that region. Specifcally, this is a key region where ionized oxygen is known to escape from Earth's upper atmosphere and, we believe, can also drive jets of atomic oxygen up to very high altitudes (hundreds of kilometers). The objective of the rocket we are trying to launch is to try to understand the details how this works.