Second rocket launches from Poker Flat Research Range

Release Date: 
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CONTACT: Ned Rozell, GI information officer, 907-474-7468,

Poker Flat Research Range, Alaska—Scientists launched a NASA sounding rocket at 11:11 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 in an attempt to learn more about the concentration of nitric oxide in the upper atmosphere from a rocket that arced about 160 miles above northern Alaska.

While the rocket launched and flew as expected, useful scientific data was not obtained, said Scott Bailey of Virginia Tech, the lead scientist on the mission.

“We were not able to get the experiment lined up on the star, for reasons we don't yet understand, so there were no science observations,” said Bailey, a former faculty member at UAF’s Geophysical Institute. “The rocket worked fine, and the pointing system worked, but no star light ever got back to the instrument section. We won’t understand what happened until we get the payload back.”

The science mission launched from Poker Flat Research Range, operated by UAF’s Geophysical Institute under contract to NASA. On Feb. 7, range staff members flew by helicopter to recover Bailey’s payload and another from a Jan. 28 launch by University of Colorado researchers.

Bailey’s mission was on the second and final rocket that will launch from Poker Flat Research Range in 2011. Bailey’s team, which includes Bill McClintock of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and colleagues from Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Lab and Artep Inc., hoped to measure nitric oxide, a molecule that destroys ozone, from about 30 to 100 miles above the ground. During the rocket’s flight, they pointed the instrument at a star of known brightness. Because the presence of nitric oxide affects the spectrograph’s ability to register the starlight, the instrument’s readings should have allowed them to calculate the amount of nitric oxide detected.

Poker Flat Research Range is the largest land-based sounding rocket range in the world. It’s located 30 miles north of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway. More than 300 major scientific sounding rockets have launched from the facility since 1969.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Poker Flat Research Range at 907-455-2110. Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at 907-474-7902 or via e-mail at