Tag Archives: Poker Flat Research Range

PolarNOx at Poker Flat

2.-NASA-photo-by-Chris-Perry-333x500.jpg

Rocket Launch at Poker Flat; Photo credit: NASA/Chris Perry

NASA and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute teamed up with some scientists from Virginia Tech University to launch a sounding rocket over the weekend at the Poker Flat Research Range.

The Polar Night Nitric Oxide (PolarNOx) experiment saw a hang fire on the first night of their launch window, but the rocket was launched successfully on the second night.

The aurora borealis adds nitric oxide to the polar atmosphere, and levels increase in the winter months, but then dissipate in the summer months, with the increase of sunlight.  Nitric oxide will destroy ozone under certain conditions.  The sounding rocket was launched to collect data to better understand the build up of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide exists between 53 – 93 miles altitude, with its peak concentration between 62 – 68 miles altitude.  The sounding rocket rose to an apex of 161 miles above the earth’s surface, before coming back down to our very frozen Interior.

84261399_2920808597941614_6268947815863418880_o.jpg

The landing pad; Photo credit: Poker Flat Research Range

For those who were up in the early morning hours to witness the launch, the rocket was seen from all over the area.  I had planned on being out there, but I was forced to make a quick run to the border instead.  At least I saw a lot of caribou.


Almost Rocket Season

72523925_2799106613445147_8730732300091785216_o.jpg

The fine folks out at Poker Flat Research Range have announced future launch windows. The first one opens on 26 January.  Poker Flat does stream the launches of their sounding rockets online.  One can receive launch updates by following the instructions above.

Venetie Aurora 2.28.17.jpg

The aurora in Venetie, Alaska; Photo credit: PFRR

PFRR also has their nightly All-Sky Camera, which is very sensitive to the aurora.  You can find their camera here:

https://allsky.gi.alaska.edu

The Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks has an aurora forecast, which is regularly updated. The link to that is here:

https://www.gi.alaska.edu/monitors/aurora-forecast

 

 


Walking Poker Flat

Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

It’s early August and people were starting to think “white stuff”. I had three jobs lined up, everyone desperate for me to start, yet not one of them was ready for me. What to do with the day off?

As luck would have it, Poker Flat Research Range had one of their summer walking tours that day, so I drove the 25 miles out to Chatanika.

“The Blockhouse” or bunker

PFRR is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The facility is owned by the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They launch sounding rockets from the range, in order to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.

Space junk returned to Earth

Study ranges from the Earth’s magnetic field to the aurora. NASA is prominent at the range, but researchers come from all over the world. All of the rockets launched from PFRR return to the Earth’s surface, and the range collects the spent payloads every summer. There is a reward paid out to anyone finding material from Poker Flat.

Poker Flat Launch Pad

The building above is open on the far end. The interior of the building, and the actual launch pad, was off limits to photography. It’s a NASA rule that doesn’t thrill UAF apparently, but we all honored the rule. The sounding rocket is brought in on what is basically an open trailer. The rocket is loaded onto the launcher, which looks like a giant erector set with a large pivot. The building itself is sitting on a pair of tracks. When ready to begin countdown, the building is pulled back away from the pad, and the rocket is spun vertical with the large erector set pivot.

Mission Control

The control center was surprisingly manual in operation. Scientists are extremely fussy about launch conditions, and they often pull the plug with one second to go. An automatic system does not give the flexibility that is needed, so there is still a “launch button”.

Power central

That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of cable, wires, or connectors.

The touring rocket

PFRR does a good job with the tour. It’s pretty relaxed, and a nice way to spend some time outdoors, for the most part, in an Interior Alaska summer. After the tour, don’t forget to stop by the Chatanika Lodge, which is just down the highway.