For Immediate Release
Two Improved-Orion sounding rockets were launched in succession from Poker Flat Research Range last night. The first rocket of the DUST project launched at 8:45 p.m. and the second rocket launched at 10:45 p.m. Both rockets flew through Earth's upper atmosphere, reaching altitudes of 62 vertical miles. Their flights lasted nearly 6 minutes each, before landing about 28 miles north of the rocket range.
The vehicles were single-stage sounding rockets more than 16-feet-long. Their mission was to take multiple measurements of mesospheric dust layers. The measurements will allow scientists to better understand how this dust affects mesospheric and atmospheric processes, such as sudden atom layers, noctilucent clouds, and polar mesospheric summer echoes. Measurements were made with an instrument called a Dust Detector, which is used to gauge small, nanometer-sized particles. This instrument rode in the rockets' payloads and transmitted information back to scientists on range.
Dr. Richard Collins and his students from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) used ground-based instruments at the Geophysical Institute's Lidar Observatory to provide a context for the rocket data. The lidar is an instrument similar in principle to radar, but uses a laser instead of radio waves. The instrument sends a laser light into the sky, which is scattered back by fine particles, atoms, and molecules at various heights.
Data collected from the pair of rockets will supplement information gathered from four rockets flown during the 2002 Poker Flat Research Range campaign, under the supervision of Dr. Kristina Lynch. Lynch is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. She is the principal investigator for all three rockets launched from the range this year.
Launch of the DUST rockets concludes the 2005 campaign at the range. To date, 12 rockets are tentatively scheduled for launch in 2007, including one UAF student rocket.
Poker Flat Research Range is the only university-owned rocket range in the world. It is operated and maintained by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It is located 30 miles north of Fairbanks, off the Steese Highway.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Amy Hartley, Information Officer, Geophysical Institute: (907) 474-5823