Five NASA rockets are scheduled to launch from Poker Flat Research Range this month. The launch window opens today, Jan. 10, at 10 p.m. AST, and runs until 4 a.m. AST, each night through Wednesday, Jan. 27. The five rockets will launch in two separate campaigns.

Marc Lessard is the principal investigator of the first campaign, dubbed ROPA, short for Rocket Observation for Pulsating Aurora that will send a large Black Brant XII sounding rocket through pulsating aurora north of Fairbanks, Alaska. Lessard is a research associate professor at the University of New Hampshire who is trying to better understand auroral behavior. Pulsating aurora isn’t fully understood by scientists today. It essentially blinks on and off for several seconds at a time, and looks much different than the sweeping bands in the sky that most aurora watchers are used to.

The second campaign will involve four sounding rockets: a Black Brant V, a Black Brant IX, and two Terrier Orions. This project is JOULE II and will launch the four rockets in a series to examine energy input into the atmosphere. Miguel Larsen is a professor at Clemson University, in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, and is the principal investigator for this experiment.

The Incoherent Scatter Radar will be used this rocket season. It was developed by Stanford Research Institute and is positioned at Poker Flat Research Range to provide additional data for scientists. The $50 million radar has a phased-array antenna, providing high-speed steering of the radar’s probing beam. Beyond test programs, this will be the first time the radar will assist scientists launching rockets from Poker Flat Research Range.

Two more campaigns are scheduled to launch in February, with a total of five additional rockets.

Poker Flat Research Range is the largest land-based rocket range in the world. It is the site of more than 2,000 rocket launches since it opened in 1969. Located 30 miles north of Fairbanks, the range is operated by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, under contract to NASA. Range staff work year-round preparing for the rocket launch season that typically lasts for several weeks each winter.


CONTACT: Poker Flat Research Range: (907) 455-2110 Amy Hartley, Information Officer, Geophysical Institute: (907) 474-5823