New Platforms for Suborbital Astronomical Observations and In Situ Atmospheric Measurements: Spacecraft, Instruments, and Facilities

Friday, 19 December 2014: 11:50 AM
Khaki Rodway1, Craig E. DeForest2, Jed Diller3, Faith Vilas4, Luke S Sollitt4, Matthew F Reyes5, Andrew S Filo6 and Erik Anderson1, (1)XCOR Aerospace, Mojave, CA, United States, (2)Southwest Research Institute Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States, (3)Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO, United States, (4)Planetary Science Institute Tucson, Tucson, AZ, United States, (5)Exploration Solutions, Mountain View, CA, United States, (6)4SpecialProjects, Mountain View, CA, United States
Suborbital astronomical observations have over 50 years' history using NASA's sounding rockets and experimental space planes. The new commercial space industry is developing suborbital reusable launch vehicles (sRLV’s) to provide low-cost, flexible, and frequent access to space at ~100 km altitude. In the case of XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx spacecraft, the vehicle design and capabilities work well for hosting specially designed experiments that can be flown with a human-tended researcher or alone with the pilot on a customized mission. Some of the first-generation instruments and facilities that will conduct solar observations on dedicated Lynx science missions include the SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform (SSIPP) and Atsa Suborbital Observatory, as well as KickSat sprites, which are picosatellites for in situ atmospheric and solar phenomena measurements. The SSIPP is a demonstration two-stage pointed solar observatory that operates inside the Lynx cockpit. The coarse pointing stage includes the pilot in the feedback loop, and the fine stage stabilizes the solar image to achieve arcsecond class pointing. SSIPP is a stepping-stone to future external instruments that can operate with larger apertures and shorter wavelengths in the solar atmosphere. The Planetary Science Institute’s Atsa Suborbital Observatory combines the strengths of ground-based observatories and space-based observing to create a facility where a telescope is maintained and used interchangeably with either in-house facility instruments or user-provided instruments. The Atsa prototype is a proof of concept, hand-guided camera that mounts on the interior of the Lynx cockpit to test target acquisition and tracking for human-operated suborbital astronomy. KickSat sprites are mass-producible, one inch printed circuit boards (PCBs) populated by programmable off the shelf microprocessors and radios for real time data transmission. The sprite PCBs can integrate chip-based radiometers, magnetometers, accelerometers, etc. This low-cost, customizable platform provides researchers the ability to design immediately responsive, repeatable, high resolution experiments.