2010 rocket season begins at Poker Flat Research Range

Release Date: 
Tuesday, February 2, 2010


CONTACT: Amy Hartley, Geophysical Institute information officer, 907-474-5823, amy.hartley@gi.alaska.edu Fairbanks, Alaska—The launch window opened at Poker Flat Research Range at 8 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on Feb. 1, 2010. Range staff members will launch two NASA sounding rockets this season that will allow researchers to better understand winds of the upper atmosphere and aurora dynamics.

Mark Conde, an assistant professor of physics at the Geophysical Institute and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Physics Department, is the principal investigator for a mission called “Ampules.” Ampules consists of a two-stage Terrior Orion rocket more than 30-feet-tall. The rocket is equipped with sealed vials that will release trimethyl aluminum in 16 bursts along the rocket’s trajectory. When released, the trimethyl aluminum will glow in the night sky, allowing ground-based instruments stationed in Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, and Kaktovik to monitor wind gradients occurring up to 100 vertical miles above Earth.

The trimethyl aluminum is harmless when released into the atmosphere. The chemical reacts with oxygen to create bright blue-white clouds in the night sky. The tracers will drift with upper atmospheric winds, and will be visible throughout Interior Alaska.

The other rocket experiment is called CHARM II—short for Correlations of High-Frequencies and Auroral Roar Measurements. Dartmouth College’s James LaBelle, a professor of physics and astronomy there, leads the project. CHARM II consists of one Black Brant XII rocket that will launch into an active aurora display above northern Alaska. LaBelle led the original CHARM mission launched from Poker Flat in March 2007.

Since specific weather and aurora conditions are required for each rocket experiment, no predetermined times are set for the launches to take place. The launch window closes March 30, 2010.

Poker Flat Research Range is the largest land-based sounding rocket range in the world. The Geophysical Institute operates the range under contract to NASA.


Poker Flat Research Range: 907-455-2110
Ned Rozell, Geophysical Institute science writer: 907-474-7468, nrozell@gi.alaska.edu
Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer: 907-474-7902, marmian.grimes@alaska.edu