Grant to local institute may aid study of sun
The institute, a nonprofit applied research and development organization based in Texas with a research center in Boulder, has received a $500,000 NASA grant to build a device that could ultimately enable scientists to take better measurements of the sun from space.
The grant is for the Solar Instrument Pointing Platform, which will fly on commercial spacecraft and optically lock onto the sun, according to Craig DeForest, a scientist at the institute and the SIPP team leader. The platform will be paired with instruments that study X-rays and ultraviolet rays that do not penetrate Earth's atmosphere.
Studying the sun is important because solar storms release large amounts of radiation and ions that can affect electronics on Earth, DeForest said.
"The reason we're doing all this is so we can understand these large storms," DeForest said.
The platform is designed to work with XCOR's Lynx spacecraft, a privately developed and operated manned vehicle that will fly half-hour flights into space. The spacecraft and SIPP are scheduled to be launched in the summer of 2014.
Currently, researchers have to rely on rockets to carry instruments into space. They also have to design and build custom observatories for each flight, which is costly and inefficient, DeForest said.
A cheaper platform for space-based research will allow more flights and more innovation in instrument capabilities, he said.
SIPP will be a platform to which precision instruments will be attached, and ultimately it will be attached to the exterior of spacecraft. Even though the instrument will be in space, it will have the stability of ground-based observatories, DeForest said.
SIPP was one of 14 projects selected for development and demonstration on commercial reusable suborbital launch vehicles by NASA's Space Technology Program. NASA's Game Changing Development Program also collaborated in the process.
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