The SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform. (Image Courtesy of SwRI)

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) developed a miniature portable solar observatory for use onboard a commercial, manned, suborbital spacecraft. The SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform (SSIPP) uses a classic, two-stage pointing system similar to larger spacecraft, but in this case, the first stage is a pilot who initially steers the instrument toward the Sun. SSIPP does the rest, locking onto the Sun to allow observations.

The first SSIPP spaceflight will search for “solar ultrasound,” a phenomenon first observed in the early 2000s by the Transitional Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) spacecraft. The ultrasound is sound waves with a 10-second period, some 18 octaves deeper than ultrasound on Earth, and forms visible ripples in the Sun’s surface layers. The waves are difficult to detect without space instrumentation because the tiny, rapid fluctuations cannot be separated from the confounding influence of Earth’s turbulent atmosphere.

Although at first SSIPP will be operated from inside the cockpit, a full system eventually will be mounted outside the host vehicle to enable UV and X-ray observations that are inaccessible from the ground.