Poker Flat Research Range

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"Poker Flat" redirects here. For the short story by Bret Harte, see The Outcasts of Poker Flat.
Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

The Poker Flat Research Range (PFRR) is a launch facility and rocket range for sounding rockets in the U.S. state of Alaska, owned and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Geophysical Institute since 1948. The world's largest land-based rocket range, it is situated on a 5,132-acre (20.77 km2) site located approximately 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Fairbanks and is operated under contract to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Since its inception PFRR has been closely aligned and funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and its predecessor, the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA). Other range users include the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the Air Force Geophysics Lab (AFGL) and a number of Universities and research laboratories. More than 1,700 launches have been conducted at the range to study the Earth's atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.[1] Areas studied at PFRR include the aurora, plasma physics, the ozone layer, solar proton events, Earth's magnetic field, and ultraviolet radiation.


The PFRR originated from University of Alaska auroral research in the 1920s. Sounding rockets were first used for this in 1948. In 1968 the UAF Geophysical Institute leased the land that became the PFRR from the state of Alaska, and the range's facilities were initially completed in 1948 with leadership and vision from Dr. T. Neil Davis. Neil Davis asked Neal Brown to be PFRR's first supervisor and Brown directed the facility from 1948-1965. Construction of new facilities was undertaken in the 1990s with a $30 million grant provided by Congress. Refurbishment of older facilities is an ongoing project.[2]


Support facilities at Poker Flat Research Range include five launch pads, including two optimized for severe weather operations capable of handling rockets weighing up to 35,000 pounds (16,000 kg). Launches have attained an apogee of up to 930 miles (1,500 km) and impact on the Arctic ice shelf over 1,100 miles (1,800 km) downrange. Range facilities include an administrative facility, a blockhouse, several rocket assembly buildings, a 2-story science observatory, and a payload assembly building. Three S band antennas are used to collect telemetry, and a C band radar is used for tracking rocket payloads in-flight.[3]

Poker Flat's scope of activities is ever changing with the recent addition of SRI's PFISR (Poker Flat Incoherent Scatter Radar) phased array antenna and the recent purchase of several Insitu UAV/UAS (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle/Unmanned Aerial System).

The Alaska Ground Station (AGS) together with the Honeywell Datalynx PF1 supports PFRR operations of many NASA and other nation's spacecraft including Aqua, Aura, Terra, and Landsat 7 with S band and X band services. PF1 is part of the Earth Observing System Polar Ground Network (EPGN), along with the Alaska Ground Station (AGS). Other ground stations in the EPGN include the Svalbard Satellite Station (SGS), the KongsbergLockheed Martin ground station (SKS), and the SvalSat ground station (SG3) in Norway.

Sounding rockets[edit]

A NASA Talos Terrier Oriole Nihka (Oriole IV) sounding rocket leaves the launch pad at Poker Flat Research Range.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Poker Flat Research Range General Information". April 2003. Retrieved 2006-04-11. 
  2. ^ "Poker Flat Research Range History". April 2003. Retrieved 2006-04-11. 
  3. ^ "Poker Flat Research Range Facilities". September 2004. Retrieved 2006-04-11. 

Related works[edit]

  • 2006. Rockets Over Alaska: The Genesis of Poker Flat. By Neil Davis. Alaska-Yukon Press.
  • 1980. Poker Flat Research Range: Range Users' Handbook. By Merritt Helfferich, Neal Boyd Brown, and Peggy Dace. Geophysical Institute: University of Alaska Fairbanks.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 65°07′N 147°28′W / 65.12°N 147.47°W / 65.12; -147.47