Rocket Successfully Launched Sunday from Poker Flat

Release Date: 
Monday, January 14, 2002


A single, four-stage sounding rocket successfully launched into the aurora at 11:23 p.m. on Sunday, January 13 from Poker Flat Research Range. The rocket, a Black Brant XII, is part of an experiment designed to use Global Positioning System (GPS) radio signals to understand how oxygen emitted from the aurora triggers the expansion of the ionosphere into space, resulting in the formation of radiation belts.

Radiation belts around the earth limit the life of satellites and are a potential hazard for astronauts working outside a spacecraft.

The rocket was launched 735 km high through a bright and active aurora display, and landed in the Arctic Ocean. As expected, the rocket released a main payload that broke into two subpayloads, each containing a GPS receiver and new types of electric field data instruments.

Dr. Paul Kintner Jr., principal investigator for the launch, said the GPS receivers all worked quite well. Onboard measurements from the rocket payloads were correlated with data collected from satellites as well as ground-based arrays of GPS receivers. In addition to furthering knowledge about Earth’s upper atmosphere, the data will be used to upgrade GPS technology for future sub-orbital missions.

Kintner is a professor at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sponsored Kintner’s rocket payload.

Poker Flat Research Range, located about 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks, is owned by the University of Alaska and operated by the Geophysical Institute under contract to NASA. Since it was founded 34 years ago, more than 1,500 meteorological rockets and 250 major high-latitude sounding rocket experiments have been launched from Poker Flat to conduct atmospheric research on diverse subjects including the aurora, the ozone layer, solar protons and electric, magnetic and ultraviolet fields.

Dr. Paul Kintner Jr., principal investigator for the launch, will be available via phone for comment Tuesday, January 15 from 9-11:00 a.m. at (907) 456-7612 (x202). 

For more information, contact Geophysical Institute Public Relations Specialist Vicki Daniels at (907) 474-5823 or via email at