MAVEN Solar Wind Ion Analyzer Will Look at Key Player in Mars Atmosphere Loss


SWIA Assembled on Clean Room Flow Bench


SWIA Mounted on a corner of the MAVEN Spacecraft

This past November, NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched MAVEN in the hope of understanding how and why Mars has been losing its atmosphere over billions of years.

One instrument aboard the spacecraft will study a special component of the Martian atmosphere to help solve this mystery. By studying ions, or small electrically charged particles, in and above the Red Planet’s tenuous atmosphere, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer will help answer why Mars has gradually lost much of its atmosphere, developing into a frozen, barren planet.

Once the MAVEN spacecraft is orbiting Mars, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA)—which was designed and built at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL)—will spend much of its time measuring the ions in the solar wind. Released continuously from the sun’s atmosphere, the solar wind travels toward Mars at speeds around a million miles per hour, carrying with it a magnetic field that originates inside the sun. It is composed of charged particles that interact with neutral gas particles in Mars’ upper atmosphere, giving them the ability to escape from Mars’ gravitational pull.

Scientists think the interactions between solar wind ions and Mars’ atmospheric particles are a key factor allowing the particles to escape, a process that gradually strips the planet of its atmosphere and has done so for billions of years.

Read the full NASA feature article, here:

SWIA instrument lead, Jasper Halekas from UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab, was featured in a June 2012 MAVEN team blog entry

COS – Cosmic Origins Spectrograph – Five Years Post Launch


STS 125 and Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Lift Off from Pad 39A


The COS Instrument in its Orbiter Payload Bay Transport Container

On May 11, 2009 the Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS 125, Lifted off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Spaceflight Center for the fifth and final Hubble Space Telescope Servicing mission.

In the payload bay of the Atlantis Orbiter was a box about the size of a phone booth and inside was an instrument called COS or the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. This instrument was proposed and designed by Dr. James Green, a former SSL graduate student. The Space Sciences Lab was contracted by University of Colorado’s CASA or Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, to build a detector and electronics package.

Almost ten years after work started and several setbacks Atlantis was launched on May 11th, 2009. Our wonderful crew and mission specialists captured the Hubble Space Space Telescope and performed a bevy of spacewalks to swap out instruments and installing new ones including Wide Field Camera 3 and of course COS.

This final Hubble Servicing Mission has been a success with amazing discoveries and a look deep into our universe, at stars, planets and galaxies never before imagined.

NASA Administrator Bolden visits Space Sciences Lab

On Thursday May 8th the U.C. Berkeley Space Sciences Lab was honored to have NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his Deputy Chief of Staff Mike French (Cal Alumni) stop by for an informational visit and tour of our facilities

Dr. Stuart Bale presented the history of our lab and the high success rate of the 75 missions that we have flown scientific instruments on, including Space Shuttle missions, Explorer Satellites, Sounding Rockets and High Altitude Balloons.

Two upcoming missions and one current mission were discussed with Administrator Bolden and his team. MAVEN’s current transition from Earth to Mars was championed by Dr. Dave Mitchell, discussing data already being collected by the suite of instruments developed by the lab and upcoming science once we arrive at Mars. ICON’s science objectives were highlighted by Dr. Thomas Immel and Dr. Bale discussed the upcoming Solar Probe mission and the challenges that are faced in its design and observations that will take place as it orbits the sun. Laura Peticolas also discussed the Educational Outreach that our lab participates in to spread the word and get students interested in science.

Administrator Bolden then toured various parts of our lab including the great view overlooking the Bay and Golden Gate, Deployable Booms with Paul Turin, Wire Booms and sphere Preamps with Dr. Bonnell, the GRIPS and COSI Balloon program with Ben Maruca, and Carolyn Kierans, the SSL MOC or Mission Operations Center with Bryce Roberts, Mark Lewis and Dan Cosgrove, and finally the Stardust lab with Anna Butterworth and Andrew Wesphal.

Administrator Charles Bolden

Administrator Charles Bolden

Paul Turin demonstrating Deployable Antennas and Whips

Paul Turin demonstrating Deployable Antennas and Whips

Dr. Bonnell explaining Wire Boom Sphere Preamps

Dr. Bonnell explaining Wire Boom Sphere Preamps


Ben Maruca explaining the GRIPS and COSI Balloon Gondola


Carolyn Kierans and the Balloon electronics


Bryce Roberts and Mark Lewis showing the MOC capabilities


Administrator Bolden examining Stardust Aerogel under the scope


Administrator Bolden, his team and our Lab envoys


Van Allen Probes Achieve Mission Success


MAVEN Launch

On March 26, 2014, NASA declared the Van Allen Probes mission—designed to explore and unlock the mysteries of Earth’s radiation belts—an official success. “Not only has the Van Allen Probes mission met its requirements for mission success, it has exceeded them,” said NASA’s Mona Kessel, but “there is much more data to gather, analysis to be done, understanding to be gained, and mysteries to be solved.”

Come visit SSL on Cal Day, April 12, 2014




Join us on Cal Day, Saturday, April 12th, from 11am-5pm, the one day each year that Space Sciences Lab opens its doors to the public. Shuttles will be transporting the public every 20 minutes from Mining Circle on campus to SSL.

cal day activities

Activities Include:

  • Walking guided tours of the lab
  • Passport to Science@Cal presenting many fun activities for youth
  • Talks and Panels  (see topics below)

1 – 2 pm Lunar Eclipse

2 – 3 pm  Cool Careers in Space Science

3 – 4 pm pm  Imaging With Neutrons: Can You See a Flower Through a Granite Wall?

For more detailed information go to the “Events” page here: Cal Day 2014 Event

MAVEN Trajectory and Cruise Phase to Mars Orbit Insertion


Satellite Missions destined for Mars – MAVEN, Mars Science Lab and Mars Rovers, launch only about every two years. The reason being the proximity of the Earth to Mars at mission launch so that the satellite catches up to the red planet in the shortest time possible.

This animation, courtesy of Dave Folta/GSFC, shows the cruise trajectory of the MAVEN spacecraft, which was launched on Nov. 18, 2013. It will arrive at Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the Sun and solar wind. The range and speed of MAVEN with respect to Earth, Mars and the Sun, both in metric (kilometers) and Imperial (miles) units, is displayed along with a date and the number of days until arrival at Mars.

The Sun-centered trajectory of MAVEN, shown in blue, takes 308 days to transit from Earth’s orbit in green, to Mars’ orbit in red. The animation updates at a rate of twice per day and shows the MAVEN spacecraft, Earth and Mars locations.

Scientists say destructive solar blasts narrowly missed Earth in 2012

STEREO CME 2012Photo Courtesy of Reuters: NASA, GSFC, SDO, Handout

Fierce solar blasts that could have badly damaged electrical grids and disabled satellites in space narrowly missed Earth in 2012, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

The event, detected by NASA’s STEREO A spacecraft, is the focus of a paper that was released in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday by Luhmann, China’s State Key Laboratory of Space Weather professor Ying Liu and their colleagues.

The full story was reported today, March 19 by Reuters, Laila Kearney

Scientists Discover “Zebra Stripes” in Inner Radiation Belt

VAPScientists at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab have discovered a new, persistent structure in Earth’s inner radiation belt using data from the twin NASA Van Allen Probes spacecraft. Most surprisingly, this structure is produced by the slow rotation of Earth, previously considered incapable of affecting the motion of radiation belt particles, which have velocities approaching speed of light.