Since 1977, the Southwest Research Institute space research
program has played a key role in NASA space physics and planetary missions. With expertise
in planetary and space science, instrument design and fabrication, and data systems
development, SwRI contributes significantly to understanding the solar system and to the
ability to study solar system bodies, in situ and remotely.
Using state-of-the-art computer modeling and data analysis
techniques, SwRI investigates solar system and astrophysical phenomena from theoretical
and observational standpoints. Historically, space research at SwRI has emphasized
magnetospheric and auroral physics, centering on the Earth's plasma environment and its
response to the solar wind. In recent years, the program has expanded to include studies
of the upper atmospheres and magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, along with other topics
in planetary science, such as Mercury's exosphere, comets, the Pluto-Charon system, and
the Kuiper Belt.
This false-color image of sodium emissions from
Mercury, obtained at the National Solar Observatory, shows Mercury's sodium exosphere,
with enhanced emissions (in red) from the south pole. SwRI is modeling the physical
processes that create and maintain Mercury's tenuous exosphere.
Complementing these activities is SwRI's space instrumentation
program. SwRI-developed plasma instruments have flown on sounding rockets and satellites,
including the two Dynamics Explorer spacecraft and the Upper Atmosphere Research
Satellite, and will be flown on the Polar spacecraft and the Cassini Saturn Orbiter. New
instruments under development include a novel energy-mass spectrograph for energetic
neutral atom imaging of magnetospheric plasmas, a Miniature Electrostatic Dual Spherical
Analyzer for concurrent ion and electron measurements of auroral plasmas, a Miniaturized
Optimized Smart Sensor (MOSS) for in situ plasma measurements, and the
ultraviolet spectrograph component for the Highly Integrated Pluto Payload System (HIPPS).
With their innovative designs, low resource requirements, and high performance, MOSS and
HIPPS embody NASA's philosophy for future space missions.
SwRI has developed a lightweight, low-cost, and
low-power ultraviolet spectrograph (UVS) as part of an integrated imaging payload for a
proposed NASA mission to the Pluto/Charon system. The Institute also leads a
multi-institutional effort to develop the Highly Integrated Pluto Payload System, which
includes, besides the UVS component, visible and infrared imagers.
SwRI's Miniaturized Optimized Smart Sensor (MOSS)
employs innovations in charged particle optics, component packaging, and high-voltage
power supplies to achieve excellent sensitivity and resolution while minimizing costs and
spacecraft resource requirements. Weighing less than one pound and requiring only 1/4 Watt
of power, MOSS represents the next generation of space plasma instrumentation and is under
consideration for several future NASA missions.
This brochure was published in January 1995. For more information
about space research, contact Dr.
James L. Burch, Acting Director, Space Science Department, Space
Science and Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio,
Texas 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-2526, Fax (210) 520-9935.
SwRI's Particle Environment Monitor on NASA's Upper
Atmosphere Research Satellite measures auroral energy input into the Earth's atmosphere.
Calculations by Institute researchers reveal dramatic ionization increases from energetic
electron precipitation during periods of high geomagnetic activity (Ap=120). Such
ionization enhancements affect the chemistry of the middle atmosphere.
Space Science and Engineering Division
SwRI Technical Divisions