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2010 Rocket Season Begins at Poker Flat Research Range

Fairbanks, Alaska-The first launch window of 2010 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 the Ampules mission, which consists of a two-stage Terrior Orion rocket that is more than 30 feet tall. The rocket is equipped with vials that will release trimethyl aluminum in 16 bursts along the rocket's trajectory. When released, the chemical will glow in the night sky, allowing ground-based instruments in Fairbanks, Fort Yukon and Kaktovik to monitor wind gradients occurring at up to 100 vertical miles above Earth. The trimethyl aluminum is harmless when released in the atmosphere. It 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 the Interior.

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 specific launch times are set. The launch window closes on Feb. 28, 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.

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