Rocket Launched from Poker Flat Retrieved for Study

Release Date: 
Monday, April 7, 2003


Poker Flat Research Range retrieved remnants from a rocket Saturday that had been launched March 27 as part of a four-rocket experiment to study winds in the upper atmosphere. The retrieved rocket did not thrust properly during its flight, causing it to fall short of its predicted altitude and land in a different part of the designated impact area than expected. It was found 5.8 miles north of the range in the special land use designated area for rocket booster impact. NASA is interested in studying the rocket’s remains to better understand the cause of the thrust failure.

Two of the rockets in the experiment were designed to release brilliant white chemical tracers of tri-methyl aluminum (TMA) in the upper atmosphere to help scientists view wind associated with the aurora using cameras on the ground. One of the rockets performed the release as designed; the other did not.

For safety purposes, NASA handled retrieval of the rocket as though it could be hazardous even though their analysis indicated that the payload would not be dangerous. This safety precaution included having experts from the Air Force’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal team puncture the payload’s TMA canister before Poker Flat crews returned the second stage motor and payload debris back to the range via helicopter for analysis. When the canister was punctured, there did not appear to be any TMA present.

Poker Flat personnel are currently working to locate the rocket’s first stage motor for retrieval and study. The burnt motor is not dangerous and retrieval is something that would normally be done in the summer months as part of Poker Flat’s regular range cleanup efforts. The motor is being recovered early to contribute to the ongoing investigation as to what caused the rocket’s thrust failure.

Bob Shefchik, UAF Geophysical Institute: (907) 474-7646