The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) established a national policy to protect the environment by requiring Federal agencies to consider the effects of their actions on the human environment prior to implementation and to give the public the opportunity to participate in the planning process. NASA is in the process of preparing an EIS to consider the potential effects from its proposed continuation of its Sounding Rockets Program (SRP) at PFRR. This EIS is being written to fulfill NASA's obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) regulations implementing NEPA (40 Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] Parts 1500 through 1508), and NASA's Procedural Requirements (NPR) for implementing NEPA (NPR 8580.1). As two other Federal agencies, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), would undertake connected actions to NASA's proposed action, the EIS will also be developed to fulfill those agencies' respective obligations under NEPA.
NASA recently reviewed its 2000 SRP FSEIS and determined that that the overall environmental analysis in the 2000 SRP FSEIS remains sufficient to support the Agency's broad programmatic decision to continue the SRP, however potential changes in both PFRR operations and the environmental context of the launch corridor north of PFRR warrant the preparation of additional PFRR-specific environmental analysis to better inform Agency decisions regarding PFRR. For example, PFRR is now considering a more rigorous rocket and payload recovery process. Additionally, a large portion of downrange lands are undergoing wilderness review, which could ultimately affect how rocket and payload recoveries are handled.
Accordingly, NASA began the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine if those changes potentially presented a significant impact necessitating an EIS. During the scoping process for the EA in the fall of 2010, NASA solicited input from over 75 potentially interested agencies and organizations. A number of conservation organizations expressed concern regarding NASA's continued operations at PFRR and requested that a more detailed assessment be performed. As such, NASA decided that an EIS would be the most appropriate level of NEPA documentation for the proposal. The subject EIS will tier from the programmatic 2000 FSEIS and provide a focused analysis of SRP operations at PFRR.
The Proposed Action is to continue sounding rocket operations at the PFRR, Alaska.
The Draft EIS evaluates five alternatives in detail, including the No Action Alternative.
Elements Common to All Alternatives
Under all five alternatives, NASA would continue to fund UAF's PFRR and conduct scientific investigations using sounding rockets. NASA forecasts that an average of about four launches per year would be conducted at PFRR, but could range up to eight launches per year.
Similarly, past scientific research has mandated that most launches be conducted during the winter months, with most of the launches occurring at night or in darkness. This is the expected mode of future operations.
No Action Alternative
Under this alternative, no significant efforts would be taken to recover spent stages unless desired for programmatic reasons, and payloads would be recovered as planned by the scientists. Thus, recovery efforts and impacts would primarily be focused on retrieval activities associated with recovery of parachuted payloads.
Alternative 1 (Environmentally Responsible Search and Recovery)
Under Alternative 1, NASA and UAF would employ enhanced efforts to locate new and existing spent stages and payloads within the PFRR flight corridor. Attempts would be made to recover all newly expended stages and payloads predicted to land on Federal, state, or private lands. Spent stages and payloads that are located would be recovered if it is determined that the recovery operation can be performed safely while causing minimal environmental damage. As such, some items or parts thereof could be left in the field if the landowners agree that attempted recovery could cause more damage to the environment than leaving it in place. A key component of this alternative is the development of a formal rocket hardware Recovery Plan.
For past SRP operations at PFRR, most spent rocket stages and payloads have not been recovered. Consistent with the philosophy that would be employed for new rocket motors and payloads, hardware that is located from past operations would be recovered if it could be done safely and in an environmentally responsible manner.
Alternative 2 (Maximum Cleanup Search and Recovery)
Alternative 2 is the same as Alternative 1, except maximum practicable effort would be exerted to fully recover newly expended and existing spent stages and payloads from PFRR if it is determined that they can be recovered safely, even if the efforts result in longer-term recovery-related environmental impacts. The key difference under this alternative compared to Alternative 1 is that NASA would also implement a policy that follows the mantra of "Leave No Trace Behind." Such a cleanup effort might require the use of larger equipment in remote areas, resulting in more short- and long-term disruption, but it is possible that the long-term benefits of removing outwardly visible hardware could outweigh those associated with a more intensive recovery effort.
Alternative 3 (Environmentally Responsible Search and Recovery with Restricted Trajectories)
Alternative 3 is the same as Alternative 1, except trajectories of future sounding rocket missions would be restricted such that planned impacts would not be permitted within designated Wild or Scenic River corridors. The restriction would be an extension of the existing prohibition on having planned impacts within Mollie Beattie Wilderness Area and would become a program requirement that must be met during mission planning. The restriction on planned impacts within Mollie Beattie Wilderness Area would remain in effect.
Alternative 4 (Maximum Cleanup Search and Recovery with Restricted Trajectories)
Alternative 4 would be the same as Alternative 2, except that like Alternative 3, NASA would restrict the flight trajectories of future PFRR missions such that planned impacts would not be located within Wild or Scenic River corridors or Mollie Beattie Wilderness Area.
Alternatives Considered but Dismissed from Detailed Study
NASA also considered additional alternatives but did not evaluate them in detail due to their inability to meet its purpose and need, largely due to an inability to achieve scientific goals, safety concerns, exorbitant cost, or a combination of the three. These alternatives included discontinuing operations at PFRR; relocating operations to other high-latitude launch sites, both foreign and domestic; use of other scientific platforms; tracking all stages and payloads until ground impact; installing recovery systems on all future payloads; assigning numerical risk criteria to sensitive environmental features; and launching easterly into Canada.
NASA published a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare the EIS and conduct scoping in the April 13, 2011 edition of the Federal Register. During the scoping period, NASA held public meetings in Fort Yukon, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, Alaska to discuss the proposal with interested parties and solicit input on environmental concerns and alternatives that should be considered in the Draft EIS. Comments were requested by June 1, 2011.
Concerns raised during the scoping period focused primarily on potential effects on downrange lands, including wilderness character, subsistence uses, recreation, and wildlife. NASA considered all comments received during the scoping period in preparing the Draft EIS.
Review of Draft EIS
Similar to the scoping period, NASA is now requesting agencies, organizations, and members of the public to review and provide comments on the Draft EIS. Please submit comments (written preferred) to the point of contact listed below by Wednesday, November 28, 2012.
Comments should be as specific as possible and should address distinct aspects of the Draft EIS document, including alternatives or the adequacy of the environmental analysis. We will consider all comments received in preparing the Final EIS. However, please note that all public comments received, including commenter name and address, will be included in the publicly available project record. Should you, as an individual, wish that we withhold your name or contact information, please clearly state this at the beginning of your comments. We will honor your request to the extent allowed by law. However, we are unable to withhold the names or contact information for persons representing organizations, government agencies, or businesses.
Additionally, our project team hosted several public meetings in Alaska to discuss the Draft EIS with interested parties. NASA would like to thank everyone who attended the public meetings held in Anchorage and Fairbanks the week of October 22, 2012. Public meetings were held at the following times and locations:
|Date and Time||Address||City|
6 - 8 p.m.
|U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Regional Office, 1011 East Tudor Road||Anchorage|
6 - 8 p.m.
|BLM Fairbanks District Office, 1150 University Avenue||Fairbanks|
A copy of the presentation shown at these meetings is available for download by clicking here.
Comments submitted by mail should be addressed to:
Joshua A. Bundick
Manager, Poker Flat Research Range EIS
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility
Wallops Island, Virginia 23337
Comments may also be submitted via e-mail to:
If you have any questions about the document, please call 757-824-2319.
A toll-free telephone number, (800) 521-3415, is also available for persons outside the local calling area. When using the toll-free number, please follow the menu options and enter the "pound sign (#)" followed by extension numbers "2319."
Review of Final EIS
Following the review of the Draft EIS, the public will be provided yet another opportunity for participation when the Final EIS is released. The availability of the Final EIS documents will be published in the Federal Register and through local news media and on this website to ensure that all members of the public have the ability to actively participate in the NEPA process.
The following agencies are serving as Cooperating Agencies in the preparation of this EIS as they possess both regulatory authority and specialized expertise regarding the Proposed Action that will be the subject of the EIS.
The Geophysical Institute-University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) owns/manages the PFRR and conducts launch and recovery operations on behalf of NASA.
The USFWS-managed Yukon Flats and Arctic National Wildlife Refuges issue authorizations to UAF for rocket and payload impact and recovery. Continued issuance of these authorizations would be necessary for PFRR to continue launching within its existing flight zones.
NASA's SRP, based at WFF, supports the NASA Science Mission Directorate's strategic vision and goals for understanding the phenomena affecting the past, present, and future of Earth and the solar system and supports the Agency's educational mission. The suborbital missions enabled by the SRP provide researchers with opportunities to build, test, and fly new instrument concepts while simultaneously conducting world class scientific research. With its hands-on approach to mission formulation and execution, the SRP also helps ensure that the next generation of space scientists receives the training and experience necessary to move on to NASA's larger, more complex missions.
The NASA Sounding Rockets Program Office (SRPO) plans, organizes, and directs the NASA SRP. The SRPO:
For more information regarding the WFF SRPO please visit their website:
The PFRR, located northeast of the unincorporated village of Chatanika, Alaska, consists of approximately 2,100 hectares (5,200 acres) of land that house rocket and payload support facilities, launch pads, and tracking infrastructure. Since the late 1960s, NASA, other government agencies, and educational institutions have supported suborbital rocket launches from the PFRR. While the PFRR is owned and managed by the Geophysical Institute of UAF, the NASA SRP has exclusively funded and managed the support contract with PFRR for more than 25 years.
The northern location of the PFRR is strategic for launching sounding rockets for scientific research in auroral space physics and earth science. The PFRR is the only high-latitude, auroral-zone rocket launching facility in the United States where a sounding rocket can readily study the aurora borealis and the sun-earth connection. Recent earth science-based missions have furthered the understanding of ozone depleting substances in the upper atmosphere. Such studies are critical for the continual refinement of theories and research on the topics of ozone depletion, global warming, and climate change. Recent space physics-focused missions have measured the upper atmospheric winds and auroras in the ionosphere. The information collected further assists the nation's scientists in understanding the interactions between the sun and earth as well as the origin and evolution of the solar system. Technology development and validation enabled by the SRP at the PFRR is critical in furthering the development of earth and space science instruments at a fraction of the size and cost that would result from using other launch methods. The PFRR facility also supports educational outreach programs where students and scientists from various universities are able to conduct aeronautics and space research.
For more information regarding PFRR please visit their website: