The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Poker Flat Research Range closed out its launch season earlier this month with a bang — three of them, to be precise. Early in the morning of March 2, three Black Brant IX sounding rockets streaked into the ionosphere, carrying instruments to study the aurora borealis’ visible structure and the formation of auroral “jets” caused by Earth’s magnetic field. In the almost 50 years since its founding, Poker Flat has been a consistent driver for UAF research, a vehicle for advances in atmospheric science and one of the university’s biggest success stories.
Launch seasons at the facility take place from January to March and usually see a handful of rockets fly each year. This year, there were five, with four of them clustered in late February and early March. The range plays a big part in UAF’s space research efforts as well as NASA’s near-Earth space science. At its humble beginnings, the future success of the range would have been hard to predict.
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