FAIRBANKS -- The U.S. Air Force says time is running out on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program near Glennallen, the most powerful transmitter of its kind in the world.
"If no transition organization is identified, the Air Force plans to decommission the research site and initiate divestiture in June," Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said in an email.
Gulick said the Air Force Research Laboratory would like to see HAARP survive, but only if someone else pays the bills, estimated at about $5 million a year.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy organized a meeting Feb. 26 of federal agencies with an interest in ionospheric research, hoping to develop options to save HAARP. The 30-acre field of antennas, power plant and associated buildings is about 15 miles from Glennallen along the Tok Cutoff near Gakona.
Mixed signals emerged from that February session. At first, it appeared that research agencies might have two or three years to develop a business plan. But then the Air Force said it wanted to cut the power when a final research project wraps up next month.
Important for studying ionosphere
Robert McCoy, director of the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute, is trying to organize a campaign to keep HAARP running. He and other researchers in Alaska and elsewhere see the facility as one of the premier institutions in the world for studying the ionosphere, the atmospheric region that begins about 55 miles above Earth and ends about 370 miles up.
"We are holding our breath to hear what the federal government wants to do with HAARP," he said in an email.
McCoy said researchers are working under the assumption that there is a willingness to keep HAARP together long enough to create a business plan for the future. "We are reaching out to the U.S. scientific community to build partnerships and identify funding sources that we can pursue jointly," he said. In addition, proponents are working on ways to publicize the scientific work that can be performed at the site and mobilize researchers.
"As soon as we know there is a way forward and a mechanism, we will start contacting international experimenters and funding organizations to see how much international funding for HAARP could be found," McCoy said. "Since we don't own the facility or have any control over it, all we can do is plan and work to increase awareness."
180 antennas spread across 30 acres
The HAARP project flourished when Sen. Ted Stevens was in office, but it no longer enjoys the financial support he aimed at the project for more than 15 years. Built at a cost of more than $290 million, it uses electric power generated on the site to power 180 antennas spread across 30 acres that are used to heat electrons in the ionosphere and monitor changes.
Construction on HAARP, funded by earmarks from Stevens, began two decades ago. It went to full power in 2007. The equipment does not heat the atmosphere and it is not a mind-control machine or a weather-control machine, though claims to the contrary have become part of the conspiracy culture over the last 20 years.
The Air Force says the final research experiments are to take place this month and next, part of the Basic Research on Ionospheric Characteristics and Effects (BRIOCHE) campaign funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
"During the BRIOCHE campaign the facility will be inventoried and evaluated to determine if equipment can be provided to other agencies and inputs to remediation costs. Providing excess instruments can save the government millions of dollars in procurements and support other scientific and engineering activities. Thus HAARP will remain active only through May 2014 unless a transition organization is found," Gulick said.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency describes the BRIOCHE program as one to explore "ionospheric phenomena and its impact on communications and space weather. This research focuses on the underlying physics of ionospheric storms ... and other ionospheric effects over a broad range of optical and radio frequencies."
"People are interested in ionospheric modification because they are interested in radio wave propagation -- to facilitate or disrupt communications. And to study basic plasma physics," researcher Herbert Carlson of Utah State University told the publication Physics Today for its April edition.
The publication quoted Brett Isham of Interamerican University in Puerto Rico as saying that HAARP is the most powerful facility of its type. He said HAARP has been able to create artificial plasma layers, which came as a surprise. "People had thought of this, but didn't expect that HAARP's energy density would be enough. It has potential for controlling the ionosphere for applications such as enhanced over-the-horizon radar and tailored radio communication links," Isham said.
$6,000 an hour
One option mentioned as a way to improve the capability of HAARP has been to move a National Science Foundation radar system from Poker Flat north of Fairbanks to the HAARP site for a year or so. Physics Today quoted a foundation executive as saying that a longer move is unlikely because other sites need the equipment as well.
Robert Robinson said the foundation doesn't have the money to support HAARP operations, but "we are interested in it as a scientific research facility."
McCoy, the Geophysical Institute director, told Physics Today that this is not an Air Force question, "it's a national question." He said Japan, Russia and Sweden may be willing to buy time at HAARP, paying $6,000 an hour to run ionospheric experiments.