Space solar observatory will look for ripples on sun’s surface

first_imgSuborbital spacecraft such as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne aren’t just for super-rich space tourists. At the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco next week, researchers will be showing off a new miniature solar observatory for use during the 5 minutes in space of a suborbital flight. Designed by researchers at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas, the SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform is initially pointed toward the sun by the spacecraft pilot and then locks on automatically. Its first experiments will look for ripples of ultrasound on the sun’s surface and it will be carried aloft by XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft (pictured), which begins flight testing next year. Such experiments used to be carried out using sounding rockets—one-shot missiles designed to take instruments to the edge of the atmosphere—but instruments got a rough ride and often took months or years to recondition. SwRI researchers calculate that suborbital flights will be 30 times cheaper and can be carried out many times per week.last_img read more