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Miniaturized science instrument payload will revolutionize future space missions

SwRI is home institution for new payload, designed to reduce spacecraft and instrument mass, power, and cost.

San Antonio -- March 13, 1996 -- A team of scientists and engineers from across the United States has designed, built, and completed testing of a lightweight, low cost, low power, multi-spectral remote sensing instrument package for NASA's proposed Pluto Express mission. Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) in San Antonio, Texas, is the home institution of this new payload, termed HIPPS (Highly Integrated Pluto Payload System).

Pluto, the most distant planet in our solar system, remains unexamined. NASA is expected to launch the Pluto Express spacecraft toward Pluto and its large satellite, Charon, between 2001 and 2003. The three instrument components within HIPPS were chosen and designed to accomplish all the prime science objectives set forth by NASA and its advisory committees for the Pluto Express mission. These include characterization of the morphology and composition of both Pluto and Charon, an in-depth study of Pluto's unique atmosphere, and a search for small satellites.

The compact instrument package is a direct response to the challenge posed by NASA and the planetary science community to conduct focused science missions using smaller, cheaper, and highly integrated spacecraft.

HIPPS is a complete miniaturized spacecraft payload. Enclosed in an aluminum box about a cubic foot in volume, HIPPS contains a sensitive visible imaging camera, a sophisticated infrared (IR) mapping spectrometer, an imaging ultraviolet spectrograph, and supporting electronics. The total weight of HIPPS is less than 12 pounds, and the total power required is less than 4 watts. This contrasts sharply with instrument payloads of the late 1980s that had similar capabilities, but were large, heavy, and consumed as much as 95 watts of power.

HIPPS was designed to reduce spacecraft and instrument mass, power, and cost by eliminating unnecessary redundancy between the spacecraft and instrument capabilities and by using state-of-the-art technologies. "HIPPS is able to achieve its high performance at low cost by incorporating innovative technologies in its design," notes Dr. Alan Stern, manager of Geophysical, Astrophysical, and Planetary Sciences in SwRI's Instrumentation and Space Research Division and principal investigator of HIPPS.

As an example, the Goddard-designed HIPPS IR imaging spectrometer uses linear variable etalon filter technology to create a "spectrometer-on-a-chip" that weighs less than 1.5 pounds. As another, the three instrument components of HIPPS share a single integrated optical bench. Also, innovative detector techniques such as a time-delay integration camera are being used to reduce payload size and weight and to meld payload and spacecraft functions. The HIPPS housing, as well as its optics, is constructed from monolithic, diamond-turned aluminum, which makes the instrument athermal, lightweight, and inexpensive. Mission operations complexity and costs are reduced by the complete absence of all moving parts. And, the microprocessor electronics are incorporated into the walls of the instrument, eliminating conventional computer boards.

Professor Carolyn Porco of the University of Arizona, a former member of the Voyager team and principal investigator for NASA's Cassini Imaging team, is responsible for the HIPPS imaging science investigation. "HIPPS represents a major departure from the design philosophies of yesteryear embodied in spacecraft like Voyager and Cassini," she says. "Using conventional materials in creative and unconventional ways, the HIPPS team has succeeded in creating an inexpensive instrument that is ideal either for a first-time reconnaissance mission like the Pluto Express or the kind of highly focused science missions on the docket for future planetary exploration." Applications of HIPPS and subsequent derivatives are likely to include detailed examinations of comets and asteroids, studies of Mars, and a proposed look at Earth from orbit.

The engineers and scientists working with SwRI to design and build HIPPS come from Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston; the University of Arizona in Tucson; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia.

SwRI has been designing and building space science instrumentation for more than 20 years, and 35 SwRI payloads have flown in space. Both Ball Aerospace and Goddard Space Flight Center have more than 30 years of experience in building spacecraft and optical instrumentation for space missions and have been active participants in supporting the scientific community in developing key technologies.

For more information about HIPPS, contact Deborah J. Deffenbaugh, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas, 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-2046, Fax (210) 522-3547.

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