Final rocket of 2011 to launch from Poker Flat Research Range

Release Date: 
Friday, April 22, 2011



CONTACT: Amy Hartley, GI information officer, 907-474-5823,

FAIRBANKS, ALASKA— Clear skies and fair weather are the only requirements needed for the third and final sounding rocket to launch from Poker Flat Research Range this year. At midnight on April 27, 2011, a Terrier Black Brant will take off, flying through the upper atmosphere to a peak altitude of more than 183 vertical miles. Scientists from NASA will study the rocket’s performance and test a variety of recovery aids packed into the rocket’s 22.5-foot payload. 

Principal Investigator Chuck Brodell, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, says this rocket launch provides NASA personnel an opportunity to learn what recovery mechanisms work best in the Alaska terrain. “This will be a tremendous help for us in the future,” Brodell said. “Recovery aids will help us recover hardware more quickly and reliably.”

The recovery aids consist of strobe lights, various sized streamers and a GPS unit that will deploy from the rocket by parachute. The GPS unit will transmit its coordinates as it floats back to Earth, notifying NASA and Poker Flat Research Range personnel. Within hours of the launch, a fixed wing airplane will be on the ready with staff to visually locate the rocket by air and plan for its recovery by helicopter later in the week. 

The rocket motor used on this launch vehicle is of particular interest to NASA. The Black Brant motor is cast with a new mixing process meant to improve performance. Brodell and NASA colleagues will collect pressure data from the motor and analyze it against data from similar launches they’ve conducted. 

Poker Flat Research Range staff supports all of the logistics for the launch, which includes everything from loading the rocket onto the launcher, providing the countdown to launch and chartering aircraft for the rocket’s recovery. These tasks and a multitude of planning and preparation before and after the rocket takes flight keep the range abuzz with activity.

The range is managed by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks under contract to NASA. The facility opened in the late 1960s. It is the only high-latitude sounding rocket range in the country, as well as the only rocket range owned by a university. It’s located north of Fairbanks at mile 30 on the Steese Highway. 

As of May 1, 2011, the year’s rocket launch season will officially close. In January and February, rockets were launched to obtain images of far-off galaxies and to measure nitric oxide — a molecule that destroys ozone in the ionosphere. 



ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Poker Flat Research Range at 907-455-2110. Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at 907-474-7902 or via e-mail at