Friday, June 5, 2015

You Launch Rockets When?

 When you think of rocket launches, do you picture a set up like you might see on the Apollo 13 movie, where this huge rocket is launched from a huge launch pad!  Well that would be right for sending a rocket into space but this place specializes in sending rockets into the atmosphere for research

Yesterday, I had a  tour of the Poker Flats Rocket Launching Range.  It is run by the University of Alaska and is about 30 miles east of Fairbanks.  out the Steese Highway, past the gold mines, the ski places and the lodge.  I almost missed the entrance to the facility.  It is kind of unassuming with only a rocket posted next the the entrance.

Rocket Launcher
It is the down season for this facility so repairs are happening and there is a skeletal crew.   This place is jumping in the winter when
most of the rocket launching occurs.  Yes, you heard that right!, launches occur in winter at night.  The facility was originally built to do scientific research on the auroras.  Now they launch several rockets per year for worldwide scientific research.

It was fascinating to see the launch pad with rocket cradles like in the picture to the right.  Since launches take place in the middle of winter with
temps in the -30 to -50 C range, they pack the rocket in Styrofoam until it launches. 

It was cool to hear that they move the garage to cover the rocket and not the other way round.  The garage moves, not the rocket.  I would never have even considered that.

rocket launcher garage
Finally is the "Bunker" that was build so if a rocket fell on it, everyone would survive .  The bunker has all the monitors, etc to collect data from the 5 to 6 min flight.  The guide told us that they sometimes are in that building for anywhere from 8 hours to 3 weeks depending on the launch window and conditions.  They have the umbilical room with all the computers connected by wires from the launch site.

I gather it can get kind of tense there so they have "Fred's place"  A small place with games, pool table, etc for people to hang out and work out some stress.  The guide told us that one time during a 3 week launch window, things got a rather tense and they had to put tape down on the floor giving everyone their own "space".  If a person was going to leave their space, they had to raise their hands and notify others.

The bottom line on the launches is simply if the conditions are not exactly right, they do not launch.  When they do launch, all paths go north and they go pick up all their trash, well not all but all they can find.  They  offer rewards for missing pieces found by civilians.

Tomorrow, I'll share a bit about the best part of the whole tour, or at least for the young and young at heart who were on the tour.....LOL

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