Poker Flat Research Range utilizes Alaskans’ help in recovering rocket debris

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) Poker Flat Research Range is asking Alaskans to keep an eye out for rocket debris. In Northeastern Alaska, from the pipeline and haul road to the Canadian border and from north of Chatanika up to the Arctic Coast, Alaskans may come across debris from previous rocket launches.

The Poker Flat Research Range recovers rocket debris from previous rocket launches. (Poker Flat Research Range)

Since 1969, the Poker Flat Research Range has launched rockets, which many have not been recovered. Peter Elstner, recovery lead with the Poker Flat Research Range, says the rocket debris would not be recovered unless there was a specific reason to do so.

Elstner says in 2012, the rocket range did an Environmental Impact Statement for the entire range, and after 2012 the Poker Flat Research Range wanted to have a clean range, “Which basically means everything that we find out there we make our best attempt to get unless it would endanger one of the people doing the recovery,” said Elstner.

He says it is the environmentally responsible thing to clean up the debris after a rocket launch. “There’s no hazardous materials in these rockets, save a few batteries here and there, but in general they’re a large disturbance on sort of a personal scale. On a landscape scale, they’re almost insignificant -- but if you came across one in the wilderness you would see it, you would notice it,” said Elstner.

Elstner says the recovery program still goes out and recovers items that need to be recovered for a purpose, as well as to recover rocket debris from any rocket that has been launched since the beginning of the range. “As people use the land and find these rockets, sometimes we do go out and look for things specifically. We go out and get them,” said Elstner.

The main things to consider when deciding whether debris is from the rocket range is:

-Making sure the debris is in the debris area of the range -- which is in Northeastern Alaska, from the pipeline and haul road to the Canadian border and from north of Chatanika up to the Arctic Coast.

-Double checking that it is not a plane, because there are airplane wrecks in the area.

-Elstner says pretty much everything else in the area, that looks like a wreck of something that is not an airplane is probably rocket debris.

For those who provide information that leads to debris recovery, there are rewards between $600 and $1200. However, Elstner says it is not really economical for people to go out and try to search for the debris since most of it is found via aircraft.

“Leave the searching to Poker Flat, we have a budget for that, but if you are out there hunting, recreating, getting taken from one spot to another in an air taxi, and you see something, let the pilot know... or if you’re flying and it’s safe to do so, get a closer look,” said Elstner.

Follow this link for more information on the recovery program.

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