Poker Flat Launch Season Extended

Release Date: 
Monday, March 17, 2003


Poker Flat Research Range has extended its rocket season with a third launch window. The addition will give two rocket missions designed to study the aurora more time to perform their experiments. From March 19 through April 7, scientists will look for the optimal weather and aurora conditions to launch six rockets.

Principal Investigators Mark Conde and Miguel Larsen waited throughout the second launch window in late February and early March for the optimal conditions to occur, but the right circumstances were never realized.

Conde is leading the first UAF Geophysical Institute-lead rocket launch at Poker Flat since 1995. The mission, known as the Horizontal E-region Experiment or HEX project, will differ from other Poker Flat launches because the rocket will tip on its side in mid-flight.

While traveling horizontally at about 2.5 kilometers per second the rocket will release a 200 kilometer-long horizontal trail of the chemical trimethyl aluminum, which is harmless to the atmosphere. The luminous trail will provide scientists with the opportunity to measure and map vertical winds in the ionosphere.

About 15-20 minutes after the first rocket is launched, a second sounding rocket will be launched. That Terrier-Orion rocket also will perform a chemical release to map the wind above and below the first rocket’s horizontal path for comparative observation and study. 

Larsen, from Clemson University in South Carolina, is leading the JOULE mission, designed to study high-latitude heating during an auroral substorm event. The experiment involves the launch of four rockets.

Two of the rockets in the experiment each will carry instruments to measure light and small-scale electrical currents in the upper atmosphere. The last two rockets will release brilliant white chemical tracers to measure wind and turbulence in the upper atmosphere. The harmless chemical tracers are expected to be visible as far south as Anchorage and as far north as Arctic Village and Kaktovik.

Near real-time audio coverage of Poker Flat’s launch countdown during the upcoming third launch window of the season is available to the public via the Internet by visiting

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

Vicki Daniels, public relations specialist, UAF Geophysical Institute: (907) 474-5823
Mark Conde, HEX principal investigator, UAF Geophysical Institute: (907) 474-7347 or 455-2110
Miguel Larsen, JOULE principal investigator, Clemson University: (907) 455-2110