Advanced science.  Applied technology.


Southwest Research Institute's integrated avionics control NASA's WISE spacecraft

Dec. 11, 2009 — NASA's latest spacecraft, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), launched Dec. 11, carries an ultra-sensitive infrared instrument that will take nearly 1.5 million images of the sky at four wavelengths and provide key scientific data identifying the most luminous galaxies in the universe and the closest stars to the sun. WISE will also measure the diameters of more than 100,000 asteroids, including hundreds of near-Earth objects (NEOs). The spacecraft, built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. and Space Dynamics Laboratory, uses a cryogenically cooled detector that provides hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times greater sensitivity than has been achievable on previous survey missions.

Southwest Research Institute's® (SwRI®) SC-11 spacecraft control avionics unit is the brain of the WISE spacecraft. The SC-11 is an integrated system providing complete command and control over spacecraft operations. The SC-11 interfaces with and controls all major spacecraft subsystems, including spacecraft command and data handling, payload data processing, closed-loop thermal control, power distribution, and attitude determination and propulsion. Additionally, the SC-11 provides a backup "safe mode" processor to ensure sun-safe orientation of the spacecraft in the event that the main processor should go offline.

"The ability of the SwRI avionics to provide a scalable and easily adaptable solution supporting both single string and redundant missions allows our customers to minimize their overall costs and maintain a common core architecture," says Buddy Walls, manager of Avionics Systems in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. "The SC-11 for the WISE mission is a great example of that process, which directly built upon the flight success of the DARPA Orbital Express program and provided a high degree of reuse for WISE."

In addition to offering spacecraft avionics and computers, Southwest Research Institute has extensive expertise in spacecraft instrument development and in both observational and theoretical space and planetary science. SwRI serves as the principal investigator institution for NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) Small Explorer mission and for the New Horizons and Juno New Frontiers missions. In addition, SwRI leads the science investigation for NASA's four-spacecraft Magnetospheric Multiscale mission.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission's principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. More information is online at  and

For more information contact Maria Stothoff at (210) 522-3305, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.