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SwRI-developed ultraviolet imaging system back in space for July shuttle mission

San Antonio, Texas -- July 12, 1999 - Space scientists and engineers at Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) are eagerly anticipating the second flight of the SWUIS imager aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-93) in late July.

Developed at Southwest Research Institute with joint funding from NASA and SwRI, the SWUIS (Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System) instrument package is an innovative telescope and a UV-sensitive, charged-coupled device camera system that operates from inside the shuttle cabin. The system is used to image planets and other solar system bodies in order to explore their atmospheres and surfaces in the ultraviolet spectral region. The UV is a particularly valuable spectral region for such studies, and can only be observed from space.

Though small, the sensitive SWUIS system has unique attributes that make it a valuable complement to more expensive space observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Among these attributes are SWUIS's unusually wide field of view (up to 30 times that of Hubble's) and its ability to observe objects much closer to the Sun than can most space observatories. This latter capability allows SWUIS to explore the inner solar system, which few other instruments can.

SWUIS, which weighs just over 60 pounds, made its first flight on STS-85 in August 1997. On that mission, SWUIS obtained more than 400,000 images of comet Hale-Bopp at a time when the Hubble Space Telescope could not observe the comet because of the glare of the Sun. These images have revealed important insights into the comet's water and dust production rates as it left the Sun on its return to the Oort Cloud of comets.

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SWUIS ultraviolet image of comet Hale-Bopp obtained on STS-85 in August of 1997. With images like these SWUIS was able to measure the water and dust production rates of this "comet of the century" at a time when other space observatories, including the Hubble, were locked out because of glare from the Sun.

On STS-93, SWUIS will be operated over a period of several days by Mission Specialists Dr. Steve Hawley and Michel Tognini. An SwRI flight control team led by SWUIS Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern and SWUIS Project Scientist Dr. David Slater will operate from the NASA Johnson Space Center mission control in Houston.

During the mission, SWUIS will image the clouds of Venus, search for faint emissions in the jovian system as an adjunct to the Galileo Jupiter orbiter, map Earth's moon at ultraviolet wavelengths for the first time, search for evidence of a hypothesized asteroid belt (termed "The Vulcanoids") inside Mercury's orbit, and conduct several other observations.

More information about SWUIS, its history, and its objectives for STS-93 can be found on the World Wide Web at: www.boulder.swri.edu/swuis/

Stern can be contacted at SwRI's Space Studies Department, located in Boulder, Colorado, at 303-546-9670.

For more information about SWUIS, contact Deborah 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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