USRA’s collaborations in heliophysics focus on solar physics and space weather. Basic and applied research efforts include particle acceleration in the heliosphere, modeling and assessment of charged particle environments and effects in near-Earth and interplanetary space, space radiation and solar wind environment testing. USRA collaborations also include operational assessments for NASA missions such as the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Parker Solar Probe, and technology and operational development for multiple sounding rocket projects for solar investigations.

Current Highlights
image of parker space probe

Exploring the sun's atmosphere

To explore the sun’s atmosphere, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will travel closer to the sun than any other spacecraft. It will have to survive extreme environments that can affect its electronics and materials.

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission will explore the sun’s atmosphere by traveling closer to the sun than any other spacecraft before. This spacecraft will have to survive extreme environments encountered in proximity to the Sun, such as temperatures up to 2500 oF, and ionizing solar radiation that can affect both electronics and materials on-board the spacecraft.

The Parker Solar Probe has an instrument suite that will measure magnetic fields and charged particles in the inner heliosphere, and will image the solar wind. USRA Research Scientist Dr. Ken Wright, a co-investigator for the Solar Wind Electrons, Alphas, and Protons (SWEAP) instrument on the Parker Solar Probe, was involved in the successful completion of solar wind and thermal testing for the Solar Probe Faraday Cup performed at Marshall Space Flight Center. Dr. Wright’s efforts saw the testing through its complete lifecycle for development of test procedures, completion of Test Readiness Reviews, and thermal and charged particle testing for both engineering and flight models of the Faraday Cup.

USRA Programs in Heliophysics
image of Parker Solar probe

HERTS Project

The USRA STI Heliophysics Group supports the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transport Systems (HERTS) project—a development and testing effort for a system of electric wires that will exchange momentum with ions in the solar wind. The wires act as tethers for “solar sails” that will propel a probe to the edge of the Sun’s Heliosphere.

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Science and Technology Institute (STI)

In collaboration with NASA and The University of Alabama in Huntsville, USRA’s STI fosters research efforts that include astrophysics, space science, new technology studies, and educational activities. Space science research includes gamma-ray astronomy, X-Ray astronomy, cosmic ray physics, solar physics and space physics.