Rockets to decorate sky with brilliant colors

Release Date: 
Thursday, February 7, 2002


Four rockets are scheduled to launch from Poker Flat when aurora conditions are suitable at night or in early morning hours this February.

Three of the rockets will release brilliant blue-green chemical trails to trace wind in the upper atmosphere. The trails are expected to be visible from Fairbanks, North Pole, locations north of the Brooks Range and as far east as the Canadian border.

Minutes after the three rockets release the chemical trails, a fourth rocket will be launched. That rocket will carry about 800 pounds of instruments through the aurora to measure light and small-scale weather in the upper atmosphere. The instrumented payload is expected to fly about 100 miles high and land in the Brooks Range, where it will be retrieved by helicopter.

The luminous trails will be photographed at ground stations at the range and at Coldfoot and Fort Yukon to help scientists determine the speed and direction of wind in the upper atmosphere. Similar in concept to the jet stream, the wind in the upper atmosphere is created by electrical currents in the aurora.

Wind created by the aurora can affect the orbits of satellites and interfere with longrange radio transmissions. Information gained from the rocket flights will help scientists design, track and operate satellites and other manmade space systems more effectively.

Clemson University Professor Miguel Larsen, from South Carolina, is the principal investigator for the chemical release rockets. Andrew Christensen, special envoy for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the principal investigator for the instrumented payload.

The launch window for the multiple sounding rocket project opens February 8 and will extend through February 23. This is the second window of launch opportunity for this project, since the weather and aurora conditions were not optimal for the experiment in January. If the conditions remain unsuitable during the February launch window, a third opportunity will be extended to the project in March.

Poker Flat Research Range, located about 30 miles northeast of Fairbanks, is owned and operated by the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks under contract to NASA.

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